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Alternate History in Star Trek part 11: TOS Spinoffs in the Early Nineties

By Tom Anderson

Last time on my Star Trek articles, we concluded our look at The Next Generation (TNG) on TV as it reached its conclusion in 1994. Before we go on to Deep Space Nine (DS9) which began in 1993 and overlapped with the last two seasons of TNG, I want to cover the spinoff, non-canon media in novels and comics that came out for both TOS and later TNG over the second half of TNG’s TV run, between around 1990 and 1994 (broadly speaking). This may sound like a rather narrow span of time to fill an article, but in fact this was a golden age for Star Trek publishing and there is a lot of material to cover. AH and time travel also became more recurring plot elements, as the Star Trek universe filled out with more consistent ‘worldbuilding’ and crossovers between TOS and TNG were no longer shunned so much. In fact, there are a few books which are so focused on AH that I will be splitting them off into yet another article to give them the attention they deserve. Otherwise, in this article I’ll be continuing with my brief rundowns and descriptions of works that are either AH-relevant or noteworthy for other reasons.

I do want this rundown to be comprehensive (a foolhardy ambition when one considers just how much Star Trek media there is) – there are items which debuted in the time period I’ve already covered which I haven’t mentioned, such as video games, but I will be looking at these later in a thematic manner. Another work I never discussed are the British TOS comics which came out in the late 1960s and early 1970s, even though I like to give a UK perspective in my articles. This is simply because I’m not familiar with them, but they are interesting enough from an ‘adapters had no cultural understanding of what they were adapting’ perspective that I may do a separate Fiction Friction article on them if I ever get a chance to read them. The chances of them inspiring something in the main canon setting that could loop back, as did happen with the American comics and novels, is remote so I feel justified in excluding them at this point.

Back to the TOS and TNG spinoffs of 1990-1994 (ish – I have adjusted these bounds depending on when particular comics series ended, etc.) Let’s start with TOS comics. When we last left our heroes(TM), it was with Peter David’s final run as writer on the DC TOS comics in 1991. This was followed immediately by J. Michael Straczynski’s only published Star Trek work – he is of course better known both for his work on Marvel Comics and for being the creator of Babylon 5, a name which will frequently reappear when we get to DS9. JMS’ single comic was titled “Worldsinger” and was about the crew trying to persuade a man to leave a dying planet who is an empathic ‘worldsinger’ who has absorbed the planet’s culture and history, and now wants to die with it. (I think JMS may be able to sue Brandon Sanderson over this). After this outing, several other writers took over, with Howard Weinstein (who had previously written a few TOS and TNG novels and whose first Trek work had been the TAS episode “The Pirates of Orion” at the age of 19) becoming the primary writer.

Reflecting the fact that TNG was coming into its own and growing in popularity, the TOS comics and other spinoff media began to fade into the background a little, no longer being seen so much as a recourse for fans who disliked TNG and saw it as illegitimate. Weinstein’s comics were usually fairly episodic (or running in short series) and involving adventures on original planets with original opponents, rather than calling back to the Klingons and Romulans quite so much – which, in some ways, is more authentic to the actual TOS TV show! The comic in this time period did, however, explore some interesting ideas, such as the comic “Once a Hero!” involving Kirk struggling to write a eulogy for a redshirt who died in the line of battle but whom nobody had got to know. A trilogy brings back Harry Mudd as a character; it is worth noting just how popular bringing back Mudd was in the non-canon material, and this was far from the first time it had happened, yet it had never been tried in the canon series after TOS (unless one counts TAS). Of course, Mudd belonged to the era of TOS, but they could always have had him cryogenically frozen or feature his descendant, rather than TNG’s colourless alternatives like Captain Okona. He wouldn’t reappear on screen again until his somewhat controversial appearance in Discovery, many decades later.

The following comics’ storyline feature a former classmate of Kirk’s, Victoria Leigh, who had served with him on the USS Farragut. This does illustrate Star Trek spinoff media’s willingness to be more nuanced and realistic with these things, compared to the usual dumbed-down big-screen rendition of ‘everyone went to school together’ as TVTropes calls it, as seen in the 2009 reboot. Further adventures allow characters like Sulu and Uhura to take the limelight, while also bringing back the Melkotians from “Spectre of the Gun” . A multi-part storyline called “The Tabukan Syndrome” followed, intending to portray the origin story of how Sulu came to command the Excelsior, as seen in Star Trek VI – though George Takei himself was unable to collaborate with Weinstein on the story as originally planned, Takei did approve of the end product. It does illustrate how surreal and time-displaced the DC TOS comics had begun, operating in a limbo where the next film could come along and destroy everything they had built up. It was soon feeling odd and unnatural for Kirk and company to be having elongated adventures on the Enterprise-A, and by the mid-90s the idea of ‘TOS spinoff media’ had largely reverted to depicting stories set during the original run of the TV series itself.

Trelane would return for the 1993 issue “A Little Man-to-Man Talk”, which was followed by the multi-part series “Deceptions” and “The Peacekeeper”. Saavik had returned recently and would infiltrate the Romulans in “Renegade”. Diane Duane guested as writer on the very TOS TV-like story “Epic Proportions”, in which a mysterious planet attacks the crew with simulations of monsters and aliens from throughout the series’ run in a nice bit of nostalgic fanservice. We finally get to something AH-relevant with a series commencing with “Time Crime”, in which a Klingon named Divak tries to change the timeline to strengthen the Klingon Empire. Ironically, this results in a timeline where the Klingons are at peace with the Federation, and Colonel Worf (TNG Worf’s grandfather, as seen in Star Trek VI) serves as an officer under Kirk on a culturally-Klingon ship. They are able to restore the timeline with (of course) the Guardian of Forever, but Worf retains his memories of the altered timeline, and supposedly this is what leads him to serve as Kirk’s defence attorney and work towards peace in Star Trek VI – an interesting idea. These comics also feature an attempt to marry the Romulan ship designs of TNG to the use of Klingon-built Romulan ships in TOS, with an interesting result. The fact that they feature Kor also forces them to confront the fact of TOS Klingons looking different from movies-onwards Klingons, with these beta canon works coming up with different explanations before the canon show provided its own.

The problems of setting comics in the TOS movie era – when most of the TOS movies follow straight on from the last with no gap in between – once again led to a desire to set stories earlier, with the storyline “No Compromise” being told by ‘present day’ Chekov via flashbacks. It is worth reflecting that the modern shift towards more continuous and less episodic storytelling (as seen in Star Trek: Discovery) is really hell on people trying to write spinoff works ‘set in between’. For example, I recall that “Heroes”, one of the series that really trailblazed this model, had a spinoff book depicting time-traveller Hiro’s repeated attempts to save a waitress from villain Sylar, which took months in-universe but ultimately ended in failure – when that’s the only gap you’ve left for a spinoff writer, maybe you should rethink your storytelling structure.

Back to the TOS comics. “Door in the Cage” sees Spock return to Talos IV to find that Captain Pike has now had a child. More flashbacks to the original five-year mission (and before!) follow, including an adventure with Kirk and Gary Mitchell before the latter’s fall. After a contemporary-set arc “A Wolf in Cheap Clothing”, another flashback “Star-Crossed” depicts the background relationship between Kirk and Carol Marcus. After this, Howard Weinstein left and the final few DC TOS comics of the second run, going up to 1996, were written by Kevin Ryan, who had already been responsible for the aforementioned Gary Mitchell story. Ryan’s final tales were all set during the original series itself, meaning – strangely – that the chronologically last DC TOS comic was “A Wolf in Cheap Clothing”.

In addition to these regular comics, there were also annual stories and one-shot specials. Noteworthy is the 1989 annual story “Starfleet Academy”, possibly the first attempt to depict Kirk’s academy years, and which does a rather better job at it than the 2009 film twenty years later (such as not forgetting he has an older brother!) This story is a continuity cavalcade of showing Kirk meeting characters who appear chronologically later, like Gary Mitchell, Ben Finney, Sean Finnegan, Carol Marcus and Matthew Decker. The story also depicts Ruth Cartwright, Kirk’s girlfriend whom the amusement park planet from “Shore Leave” had recreated, as breaking up with him over disagreeing about his decision to join Starfleet. While it’s a bit of an obscure reference, that’d have been a much better plot point to use in “Star Trek: Generations” than some woman we’ve never heard of on a ranch we’ve never seen being opposed to Kirk wanting to rejoin Starfleet – imagine if the question had instead been whether it’s selfish for Kirk to have desired a normal life in the Nexus fantasy and throw down his responsibilities to Starfleet, including all the times he saved the galaxy.

Cover by J.K. Moore and Jason Palmer.

The 1994 annual story “To Walk the Night” features Spock’s adventures as a junior officer under Captain Pike, which is all the more relevant now “Strange New Worlds” has come out (no spoilers, I haven’t seen it yet because Paramount are idiots who’ve forgotten that there’s a world outside the USA for distribution rights). The final TOS annual story from 1995, “Split Infinities”, leads into a crossover with a TNG annual comic, “Future Imperilled”, the two collectively called “Convergence”. Similar to the novel “Federation”, at this point crossovers were still very cautious – neither crew ever see the other as any more than blurry images in a place where times run together. This story also features Gary Seven and his fellow ‘supervisors’ (recently brought back in the canon TV show in “Star Trek: Picard”) and a changed timeline that has Sybok, rather than Spock, as the one working for Vulcan-Romulan reunification!

The fact that DC’s former comics philosophy was now looking absurd was illustrated by the one-shot “The Needs of the One”, which covers Spock’s recovery from his resurrection after Star Trek III and ends with the crew being recalled from Vulcan to face trial at the start of Stare Trek IV – a gap which the former comics had casually inserted months’ worth of adventures into! The 1994 one-shot “Raise the Defiant” features the crew trying to retrieve the USS Defiant from interspace – of course, the canon show would render that impossible about a decade later, when Enterprise portrayed the ship as having vanished into the past of the Mirror Universe. “Echoes of Yesterday” is a very confusion continuation of “Operation: Annihilate” featuring Kirk’s nephews, and something about how one of them actually time-travelled to die in place of his brother, or something. (Needless to say, this is consistent with literally nothing else).

There was also an unrelated one-shot miniseries by Michael Jan Friedman in 1992, “The Modala Imperative”, which was pitched as the first ever TOS-TNG crossover. This is a bit of a questionable definition, however, as the plot concerns the TOS Enterprise visiting the titular planet and then the TNG Enterprise doing so a century later, with the aged Spock and McCoy in tow, rather than interaction between the crews in their own time. But, again, this is illustrative of just how incredibly cautious everyone in Star Trek was at this point about crossovers, a far cry from the norm today. Also from 1992 came “Debt of Honour”, DC’s first standalone Star Trek graphic novel, which depicts a recurring struggle against some sort of insectoid extragalactic invaders across multiple time periods (but only stretching from Pike to the last TOS films), involving alliances between powers to resist them. The final DC Comics Star Trek production of this run was “The Ashes of Eden” from 1995, the only time a Star Trek novel has been adapted to comic form – the book in question, the first of William Shatner’s Kirk-centred Generations fix-fics ghost-written by the Reeves-Stevens, we will get to elsewhere.

So much for the DC TOS comics. They now feel like a fascinating insight into a whole other era. Today, the TOS movie era feels almost a self-contained, closed box for spinoff media – as I said above, almost every film is immediately followed by another, and there is no space to feature adventures involving our main cast. After Star Trek VI, or maybe before Star Trek II, yes, but not otherwise. It is a stark contrast to an era where, in part because stories were debuting as the films were still coming out, writers saw this period of Star Trek history as a living, breathing continuation of the original series setting which they loved. It does not help that, because of TNG using movie-era uniforms and technology to represent a distended long past period (that whole ‘100 years later’ thing again), its identity now feels much less focused than it once did.

In the second half of the article, we’ll be looking at the TOS novels that debuted in this period. Simplifying matters, Pocket Books still holds the TOS licence even to this day, whereas some other parts of the franchise have changed hands. Last time, in part 7, we had got up to 1990 with “Home is the Hunter” and also looked at some of the separate ‘Giant’ TOS novels. I mentioned I was cutting off the latter because of the classification problem caused by the “Lost Years” novels, which began as a ‘Giant’ novel “The Lost Years” but then produced numbered sequels that were in the main sequence of TOS novels – confusing! I’ll look at them all together now, rather than having them interrupt the flow later. “The Lost Years” is not to be confused with “The Lost Era”, which is a later term describing the aforementioned long distended period in between the final TOS movies and TNG.

The first book, simply titled “The Lost Years” by J. M. Dillard (1989), is about the final hours aboard the Enterprise as the five-year mission ends and they return to Earth, the crew’s future uncertain. Kirk has applied for command of the USS Victorious, but this is blocked as Starfleet want him to take a desk job. Junior members of the crew, including some in romantic relationships, find themselves ripped apart. This poignant story saw an unexpected continuation in the main series of novels, starting with “A Flag Full of Stars” (great title!) (1991) by Brad Ferguson features a story including a renegade Klingon teacher on Earth who faces racial discrimination, a married Kirk disconsolately having to turn the refit Enterprise over to Will Decker, and the restoration of the original space shuttle Enterprise for a memorial flight (again, very cool concept). I am most familiar with the third and fourth Lost Years books, as my school library (somewhat randomly) had the third one and then I bought the fourth.

The third novel, “Traitor Winds” (1994), is by L. A. Graf, actually a pseudonym for the writing team of Karen Rose Cercone and Julia Ecklar. Amusingly, the initialys don’t stand for anything – it’s an acronym for “Let’s All Get Rich and Famous!” Anyway, “Traitor Winds” is basically a Cold War political thriller IN STAR TREK; the cover even has an SR-71 Blackbird with warp nacelles, which is absurd and I love it. Chekov alludes to meeting a contact in Gorky Park at one point, for goodness sake. Sulu and Chekov get framed for murder and treason as part of a conspiracy. The big twist is that the friendly wealthy retired captain Jackson Kahle II is actually behind an attempt to start a war to benefit his weapons company. A lot of it feels very un-Star Trek, and when I read it I didn’t really know much about the Cold War, but it was still great.

The fourth Lost Years book, “Recovery” (1995) returns to J. M. Dillard again; despite this, there’s not much about the adventure that really screams of the era it’s set in, other than McCoy having a beard on the cover. The story is about a new experimental Federation medical ship, the titular Recovery, which is capable of beaming thousands of people on board for treatment at once and is controlled by an artificial intelligence. No prizes for guessing what happens, yes it goes rogue and Kirk has to stop it like every other time they’ve tried this. Actually in this case it’s mostly because the designer got brainwashed by the Tholians (remember them?) This one depicts the Tholians’ angular appearance in “The Tholian Web” as being due to being contained in protective suits, whereas eventually the canon show would go with the interpretation that they are crystalline life-forms themselves. Anyway, feels a bit unnecessary and doesn’t go with the other books particularly well.

With the Lost Years books out of the way, let’s get back to the main sequence. “Renegade” (1991) by Gene DeWeese has a very clickbaity cover, as it looks like the TOS Enterprise is fighting a Borg ship (it isn’t). “Legacy” (1991) and “The Rift” (1991), by Michael Jan Friedman and Peter David respectively, both involve call-backs to Spock serving under Pike, the first having an old enemy recur and the second featuring a civilisation which can only be reached every thirty years through the titular rift. This allows David to feature Pike’s crew, including Number One (in his interpretation, nobody uses her real name because nobody can pronounce it!) “Faces of Fire” (1992) by Michael Jan Friedman really illustrates some of the problems writers had at this time, as the cover features both a TNG-era Klingon and TOS-era Kirk and Enterprise! It also has Friedman try to be too cute by featuring a young David Marcus and Spock helping him, dodging around Kirk being unaware of his son’s existence until Star Trek II.

Similar to the earlier TNG novel “Doomsday World,” the TOS novel “The Disinherited” (1992) saw Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman and Robert Greenburger collaborate (Carmen Carter declined to participate this time). Despite this seeming like a recipe for disaster (too many cooks), the resulting book is quite good and only has a few minor inconsistencies. The most memorable sequence to my mind involves the Parath’aa race (known as ‘Dead Heads’ for how their transparent skin makes them look like corpses to most humanoids), whose tyrannical ruling government seems genuinely oblivious to why the Federation keep turning them down for membership and not treating them as equals, even while they casually gun down a group of protestors in the background of their latest membership bid. Any coincidences to the current Russian government are accidental, but prophetic.

After a few self-contained novels (including more from L. A. Graf), “The Starship Trap” (1993) by Mel Gilden sees a story about the crew tackling a phenomenon that is abducting ships from all the powers (and, of course, which the Klingons are blaming on Starfleet attacks). This story is noteworthy from an AH perspective because part of the phenomenon features the Enterprise being briefly flung into an alternate timeline where they encounter an alternate version of the Klingon race, named the Klingee. The differences are amusingly cosmetic in nature, like the ship being a different colour (which is surely a deliberate gag when it’s in print!). In the process, they discover that the Klingee have developed a new weapon called a ‘cyclor’, which can push an enemy ship a long distance away with a shot. At the end of the book, Kirk successfully talks down the standard timeline Klingons by revealing his knowledge of the cyclor, which their own engineers are still working on, and the Klingons become convinced that Federation spies must be really good!

“The Great Starship Race” (1993), by Diane Carey, is one of my favourite Star Trek novels – the fact that it references Arthur Ransome’s “Swallows and Amazons” is surely a coincidental factor here (ahem, read my novel “Well Met By Starlight”...) The novel has an interesting structure with two prologues. The first is set on a Romulan ship during the Earth-Romulan War, where a young officer named Valdus is being castigated as a coward by his primus (admiral), while reflecting that the war is going badly and that the ‘Earthers’ are not as weak as the Empire thought. The Romulans encounter a slow and primitive ship, finding that the people aboard are a group of passive, herbivorous, submissive aliens – as Valdus reflects, “an imperial dream – a planet of slaves”. However, turns out they’re also telepathic, and their abilities cause the Romulans (with their own latent Vulcanoid telepathy) to turn on each other, with only Valdus escaping as the ship explodes. The second prologue is a memorable depiction of the ‘actual’ first contact from the perspective of the herbivores, the Rey, who have since given up on trying to contact alien life. They initially think a Federation starship entering their home system is an asteroid about to destroy their world, as warp drive makes its mass look much larger than it is.

A few years after this first contact, Kirk and the Enterprise are one of four Starfleet ships and crews participating in an event the Rey are hosting, the titular ‘Great Starship Race’. Other participants include the freight captain (and old flame of Kirk’s because obviously) “Nancy Ransom” (do you see what I mean) – and a Romulan ship commanded by Valdus, which shows up at the last minute. Throughout the race, it turns out the Romulans have an evil plan to destroy the Rey before their telepathy can make them a threat to the Empire. Initially it turns out that they’re trying to steal Ransom’s ship and install cobalt plates around its reactor, turning it into a bomb that will destroy the planet if it collides at warp. When that fails, Valdus’ first officer tries a suicide run in his own ship, and the Enterprise has to chase it, after having its systems artificially limited to make the race fairer. The whole chase sequence sounds exactly like it authentically comes from the TV series itself, in particular the dramatic beats when the bridge crew look at Kirk as he orders them to go to warp factor eight, then warp factor nine.

Kirk also has a ‘Kirk speech’ to the Romulans in which he makes the point that, though Romulan and Klingon propaganda portray the Federation as weak for its democracy and freedoms, in practice the Federation keeps winning every war and pushing them back: “Freedom is more potent than force!” It’s a powerful message that has renewed resonance today, when we see how certain dictatorships (cough, Russia, cough) turn out to have rotten and ineffectual armies because their society punishes people speaking out to highlight problems, and rewards corruption and backstabbing. It’s also the reason why I have a problem with the Mirror Universe being presented as a serious threat, but that’s another discussion. Anyway, in the end the Romulans are stopped, but Valdus survives and Kirk has a final conversation with him to the same effect. The Rey are arguably an earlier form of what Discovery is going for with the Kelpiens, but a bit more stereotypical, e.g. being portrayed as so passive and submissive that the Federation had to convince them not to rename their planet ‘New Earth’.

Another novel I read from my school library is the McCoy-centric “The Better Man” (1994) by Howard Weinstein of comics fame. This involves McCoy discovering a daughter he never had (not Joanna, another one) on a planet of genetically-perfected humans named Empyrea, which he visited twenty years earlier. As is consistent with Star Trek (as in the TNG episode “The Masterpiece Society”) everyone is contemptuous of the eugenicists, e.g. pointing out that their claim that something failed in a space station due to ‘inferior’ Federation technology is nonsense, and it was the failure of an Empyrean-built component. At one point McCoy is kidnapped by a young Empyrean who wants to launch the ‘Empyrean Liberation Front’, only for McCoy to mock him by pointing out that the acronym spells ‘elf’. It’s another piece that fits nicely with the concept of the Federation’s views of these things being influenced by the Eugenics Wars, even though I don’t think that’s specifically brought up.

We then come to “First Frontier” (1994) by Diane Carey and Dr James I. Kirkland, which is so AH-focused that it is one I will be discussing in a later article. That is a convenient point to finish with the TOS main-line novels for now, but I will briefly sum up the following ‘Giant’ standalone novels before concluding this article. “Prime Directive” (1990) by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens is an extreme tale of the titular law, with Kirk and the entire Enterprise crew briefly being thrown out of Starfleet altogether for their actions violating it – a bit of a change to how easily they get away with it in the series itself and arguably the reboot films. “Probe” (1992) formally by Margaret Wander Bonanno (who disavowed it after it was rewritten by Gene DeWeese) is a rather-unnecessary-feeling follow-up to the probe in Star Trek IV, which is mostly used as an excuse for yet another story about a diplomatic incident with the Romulans possibly leading to war. “Best Destiny” (1992) by Diane Carey is a follow-up to her earlier novel “Final Frontier”, once again depicting (via a flashback from the end of Kirk’s career) George Kirk and Robert April, this time being joined on a mission by the sixteen-year-old ‘Jimmy’. “Shadows on the Sun” (1993) by Michael Jan Friedman is, again, about McCoy’s backstory and his ex-wife – not necessarily consistent with any other depiction! “Sarek” (1994) by A. C. Crispin – not to be confused with the TNG episode of the same name – depicts a rapproachment between Spock and Sarek after the death of Spock’s mother Amanda.

Finally, we come to the novel “Federation” (1994) by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, which I have previously devoted an entire article to, so this also seems like a fitting place to end. Next time, I’ll talk about TNG comics and novels in the period of 1990-1994 or so, before devoting a whole article to “First Frontier” and a few other more AH-focused works like Peter David’s “Imzadi” and “Q-Squared”. And then, finally, we’ll get to DS9 – I promise!



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