By Tom Anderson
As discussed in the last few articles, I will be devoting this article to fuller treatments of four individual spinoff, non-canon Pocket Books Star Trek novels of the early-to-mid-1990s. The reason for this focus is that all four of these use the concept of exploring an alternate timeline as a central plot element, and so represent possibly the deepest dive into AH from Star Trek thus far. “First Frontier” is an Original Series (TOS) novel, while the others are Next Generation (TNG).
“First Frontier” (1995) was penned by the unusual combination of veteran Star Trek (especially TOS) author Diane Carey, and paleontologist Dr James I. Kirkland. The relevance of the latter’s expertise will become clear.
Captain Kirk and company are participating in a Starfleet simulated wargame with two other ships (whose captains must be quite brave, seeing as the last time they did a wargame in “The Ultimate Computer”, the titular computer went rogue and started killing crews for real). Specifically, the Enterprise is testing a new kind of shielding system. Meanwhile, we get glimpses of some mysterious reptilians (who we’ll eventually learn are called the ‘Clan Ru’) doing a mysterious mission that ends up with them setting up an asteroid-deflecting weapon in a jungle somewhere.
Suddenly, a temporal wave sweeps over the Enterprise, but an unexpected side effect of the new shield is to protect her and her crew from the effects of history being changed. (While the cause-and-effect logic of this sort of thing doesn’t entirely hold up, I prefer this ‘accidental side effect’ approach to the notion of deliberate temporal shielding later used in a similar plot in Voyager). The other Starfleet ships disappear and are later replaced by powerful warships of the ‘Romulan Imperial Guard’, an organisation whom nobody has heard of. (Carey describes the Romulan ships as ‘being shaped like a crouched cat’, and I always wondered just how literal this was meant to be). The Romulans are then attacked by a kind of kamikaze missile called a ‘Spear’, piloted by a Klingon – whose life pod the crew rescue. The Klingon prisoner has no knowledge of humans or the Federation, and a confused Kirk heads to Earth to find out what has happened.
It turns out that Earth is covered largely by jungle and large reptilian creatures, with no sign of humanity. In a bit that slightly shakes my suspension of disbelief even for Spock, Spock can reel off far more detailed paleontological knowledge of his mother’s homeworld than any of the human crew who grew up there. While there, the crew encounter a ramshackle Vulcan ship, whose friendly commander briefs them on the history of this timeline. The human race never existed, and so there was no-one there to stop the Romulans in the Romulan War. The Romulans have become the dominant species in the region, with the Vulcans reduced to Ferengi-like traders who quietly aid the Romulans’ enemies while claiming to collaborate. The Klingon ‘Spear’ desperate last-ditch weapons were developed by the Vulcans, as the Klingons have otherwise been defeated by the Romulans and can no longer fight back on the same level. There’s a good sequence where Kirk rather desperately asks after every other major alien race who appeared in TOS (Tholians, Melkotians, etc.) and the Vulcan dully lists a sequence of them being destroyed or conquered by the Romulans.
Exploring this alternate timeline can therefore be considered “It’s the Federation’s/Humanity’s Wonderful Life”, where we get to see how stuffed local space would be without humans being there at the right place and the right time. If you want to big up humanity, I think this sort of thing is way more interesting than the mirror universe type scenario (or the Confederation seen in the recent Picard series) which seems to imply that humanity alone could conquer all its neighbours if it wanted to because reasons.
Anyway, Kirk and company decide to go to the Guardian of Forever’s planet (take a shot) to investigate further and find how history was changed. The Guardian shows images of Earth’s history to them, and the divergence – as you may be able to guess – was that the Chicxulub meteorite impact that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was averted. They then see images of reptilians evolving into intelligent life forms who are building boats and sculling along rivers – and then, abruptly, cut to the mushroom cloud of a nuclear detonation. Turns out that an intelligent civilisation has arisen multiple times from the dinosaurs, but every time they wiped each other out in a nuclear war and blasted themselves back to square one, over and over and over. Kirk is horrified to see this. I didn’t realise at the time, as I hadn’t read Niven and Pournelle’s “The Mote in God’s Eye” before I read this, that it may be a reference to a similar endless cycle of destruction presented in that book. All of this explains why the Earth of the present day doesn’t seem to have any intelligent civilisation, whether human or dinosaur-derived.
By this point the Romulans have shown up and are blasting the Enterprise in orbit, with Scotty giving a memorable “I’m sorry, sir…” as the shields are about to collapse. Kirk and company use the Guardian to travel into the past to find what caused the meteorite to fail to strike. Due to the unplanned mission, they lack much in the way of equipment, so there’s a memorable sequence of the crew using their chemistry knowledge to make explosives (including one female officer who sacrifices her wedding ring to make silver azide). After finding and capturing one of the Clan Ru, McCoy – interestingly, and surprisingly to me when I read it – recognises them and calls them by name. He says they’re an obscure intelligent life form from a planet deep in the heart of the Federation, but who refuse to join it and remain in their isolated enclave, as well as refusing to share any genetic data. The reason for this (in story, at least) is that it turns out they evolved from a group of dinosaurs removed from Earth by the Preservers (take another shot) and dumped on the planet in question. They are here to prevent the Chicxulub impact in order to ensure humanity never ‘steals’ Earth from them and that an intelligent dinosaur civilisation arises on Earth, too.
Of course, Kirk and co. are able to prevent the weapon from neutralising the asteroid, and he even gets to give a classic Kirk speech in which he explains that their plan had only doomed their cousins to an endless cycle of atomic annihilation; there was no great dinosauroid empire waiting for them in the changed timeline. They are returned to the Enterprise just as Scotty is giving his last message, only for the Romulans to disappear and be replaced by the Federation returning as the timeline is restored.
“First Frontier” is partly a cash-in adventure on the success of “Jurassic Park”, of course, but it’s also an intriguing exploration of a changed Star Trek universe, a dystopia of a different sort to the usual ‘everyone’s got a goatee’ variety. I always felt it was a little bit weird and almost ‘racist’ to suggest that the dinosauroids would inevitably and inherently destroy themselves over and over in nuclear war, but then, humanity itself nearly did that in the Star Trek backstory too. The irony that the Clan Ru’s plan produced a dystopia that utterly failed in its intended objectives is also an interesting variation, rather than ‘Nazis win because neo-Nazis successfully helped them’ or whatever.
As an aside, Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) claimed that Harlan Ellison (of Guardian of Forever fame!) wanted to make a plot like this for the first Star Trek film back in the 1970s, with Ellison envisaging a moral choice (indeed, like in “The City on the Edge of Forever” over whether to destroy a changed reality in which intelligent dinosaurs have taken the place of humans). Bizarrely, apparently the plan was dropped because one of the producers was obsessed with the Mayan calendar and insisted on bringing it into it, which Ellison (rightly) pointed out had nothing to do with the plot, and he walked off in a huff. A rare case of 2012 conspiracy theories changing the course of history (ironically!) over thirty years before the actual 2012. Oh, and Carey originally wanted to call the novel “Lost Frontier” but Pocket Books said no. I actually agree with the execs in this case. Besides, it means Carey has put her name to a book called “First Frontier” and a book called “Final Frontier”, you can’t get more completionist than that.
The remainder of the three books we’ll be discussing are from the TNG era. “Dark Mirror” by Diane Duane (known for her Romulan books) debuted in 1993, but she states in the foreword that the planning for it started out in a pizza place back in 1990. As one might guess from the title, it represents a return to the Mirror Universe, and – I think – only the second such return since the Mirror Universe saga in the comics. Naturally, with the lack of mutual canonicity of any of the spinoff material, Duane’s take on the Mirror Universe is rather different to that one.
As you may have gathered from the tone of these articles, I generally think fiction about the Mirror Universe is a mistake – it was fine as a one-off in the original TOS episode, but really that episode was just trying to do “The Enemy Within” (where Kirk gets split into ‘good’ and ‘evil’ halves) writ large. It’s just not solid or realistic enough to hang stories on, being a kind of morality play rather than a true setting, the sort of place where if you poke at the characters, they fall over like cardboard cutouts. Critic Phil Farrand pointed out the lack of logic to the original episode – what are the chances that the Enterprise would end up at the exact same planet with the exact same mission at the exact same time as our Kirk’s version, with essentially the same crew? How come that crew composition is the same, when we see that in the Mirror Universe’s literal culture of backstabbing, several big names die in the course of that one episode? How does Starfleet keep a large and complex spacecraft running when nobody stops scheming and poisoning each other long enough to pick up an engineering textbook? Again, it’s the sort of logical query one can set aside for the sake of one episode, but not a setting where it keeps on happening every time you go back to it. But I digress.
I only read “Dark Mirror” recently because it was relevant to these articles, and it was recommended to me. I admit I picked up a copy as a child and put it down because I opened it at the page where Picard reads his mirror counterpart’s service record and it mentions the ‘ISS Stargazer, ICC-2893’. Whereas, as any fule kno, the Mirror Universe does have ISS rather than USS, but the NCC prefix is unchanged because, er, they couldn’t afford to repaint the model for the original TOS episode. I considered these things SERIOUS BUSINESS when I was a child. Anyway, having read “Dark Mirror” I do see what people like about it. However, to paraphrase Dr Johnson, ‘”Dark Mirror” is a book that is both good and about the Mirror Universe; however, the parts that are good are not about the Mirror Universe, and the parts that are about the Mirror Universe are not good’. You’ll see what I mean shortly.
First of all, one thing Duane does superbly well is capture the feel of TNG – especially early-to-mid TNG, just as the show was hitting its stride. When the setting was still unabashedly and unapologetically intellectual in character, unlike later Star Trek incarnations, but had ceased to be priggish and unlikeable, with more ‘soap-opera’ moments and character interactions. And then there are the things that were still vaguely reasonable in the early 90s but now seem completely insane: as detailed on the Enterprise-D blueprints and a line or two of dialogue, the ship has Cetacean Navigators – i.e. tanks of dolphins and whales that assist with navigation. The beginning of the book concerns a Federation Delphine navigator, not an Earth dolphin but a member of a similar, more intelligent alien species named Hwiii, who has been doing research while on a convoy of some mysterious, itinerant aliens whose language even the Universal Translator struggles with. The aliens leave Hwiii with the Enterprise and a vague warning about something being wrong with the fabric of spacetime. Meanwhile, Riker is introducing Worf to the wonders of Earth opera on the holodeck – Worf is initially disappointed that it’s not as violent as the Klingon version, but it turns out Riker’s holoprogram takes them to all the best riots in operatic history (with the usual Trek format of a couple of real ones from history and then some fictional future ones…at least one of whose dates has now passed I think!)
Soon enough, there’s a strange anomaly and the Enterprise finds itself flipped into another dimension – no prizes for guessing which one. They find their systems being sabotaged by an ensign who seems mad with paranoia, yet that same ensign is already accounted for; it’s his mirror counterpart. With superior sensors, they’re able to locate the ship that drew them in from a safe distance – their own Mirror Universe counterpart, because obviously. As the written word is not limited by a special effects budget, Duane can present the other Enterprise as being physically bigger, greyer and meaner, more heavily armed, with a warp core four times as powerful. The power leakages are so great that they are able to intercept recordings of the bridge – which is filmed all the time, because Big Brother – and Duane nicely captures how creepily disturbing the experience is to our prime crew.
Duane’s take on the Mirror Universe is, generally, refreshingly less in-your-face than most depictions. Rather than the usual skimpy uniforms, there are just vague references to more gold (prefiguring the aesthetic used in Discovery). Mirror Universe people are different more from their attitude than from their appearance. A fan favourite character is Mirror Troi, who is more like a political officer who goes around mind-violating people to assess their loyalty, whilst also plotting against Picard of course. (However, she is still referred to as ‘Counselor’ in the other universe, for, er, some reason). The prime crew decide that they need to retrieve the secrets of how the mirror ship pulled them into this universe and then destroy it to prevent an invasion – so they must infiltrate. Geordi LaForge must go as he’s the engineer, and Troi goes because everyone is scared of her counterpart. Later, Picard goes, knocking out and replacing his counterpart. The crew’s ace in the hole is Data, who doesn’t exist in the other universe. Worf does, but is an enslaved Klingon in that dimension…who is still allowed to work the weapons because shut up.
What Duane does best is instilling the sense of creepy psychological horror from our crew as they are surrounded by nightmare doppelgangers of their friends. In particular, we get Troi’s perspective of how she senses their minds (and has to avoid that of her psycho counterpart). We also feel a real sense of danger, with Geordi being subject to the agony booth at one point. In this version of the Mirror Universe, agonisers are now built into commbadges – leading to that ensign from the start panicking when our Picard when to examine his badge. The ensign also dies when a pre-programmed virus kills him, a self-destruct put in place to tie up loose ends. (Again, who in this backstabby setting has enough time to sit down and develop advanced genetics?)
While Picard is taking the place of his counterpart, he reads up on the history of the Mirror Universe, so we get to see Duane’s take on it. Strangely, the book actually contains two origin stories that are, essentially, mutually incompatible. The first one, as Picard gathers, is that Khan’s Augments (then not called that) won the Eugenics Wars. Dominated by the genetic supermen, Earth avoided World War III but then became a militaristic, conquering superpower. OK, as origins go, that makes at least as much sense as the comics one of bouncing back from Romulan occupation – one could, at least, make the argument that it’s a bigger base of humans to build on without World War III, overpopulation drives conquest maybe, etc. Where things start to go off the rails is that it adds that the Vulcans are also psycho in this universe because…reasons? and still become allies of humans. I get that Duane was trying to explain Spock’s presence in the original episode, but to an alternate historian it feels like bad writing.
In any case, this logical idea of a divergence then gets contradicted when Picard reads literature (his counterpart has the exact same bookshelf as him) and finds that history has been somehow tainted by evil from the start. There is a very memorable sequence, which several fans have cited as their favourite, in which he reads the end of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” and finds a horrifying alternative ending, “The quality of mercy must be earned”, in which Antonio is indeed stripped of a pound of flesh. A shocked Picard even gives a Mirror King James Bible a suspicious look before deciding not to satisfy his curiosity. (Don’t get me started on how prime-Picard has the KJV despite being irreligious in Duane’s conception just because he likes the language or something – another piece of instantly dated 90s daftness like the cetacean navigators).
Anyway, I can see why people do find the alternative Shakespeare chilling, but I find the concept of the Mirror Universe as ‘it’s morally tainted because, um, shrug and move on’ to be very unsatisfying – it has since appeared in the canon show, notably in Enterprise (where, ironically, Shakespeare is held up as an example of fiction which is the same in both universes!) Ultimately, this approach reduces the Mirror Universe to a silly cartoon which doesn’t have to obey logic, which also means I cannot take it at all seriously as a threat.
Don’t get me wrong, “Dark Mirror” is far from the worst offender of all the Mirror Universe takes; Duane’s able grasp of psychological horror means that the visceral threat manages to override the lack of logic. But it strikes me that this book would’ve been even better if the framework had been more like Red Dwarf’s “Demons and Angels”, where Lister accidentally destroys the ship and creates ‘good’ and ‘evil’ versions, not unlike “The Enemy Within”. In that setting, we don’t have to wonder how the ‘evil’ ship functions when everyone is constantly trying to murder each other, because it was only just created. It can still be a threat when they threaten to torture our heroes. But Star Trek asks us to believe that the counterpart of a ship, crewed by the counterparts of the same crew, can just happen to be in the same place at the same time in another universe whose decision-making values have been warped for centuries. It just doesn’t work.
Incidentally, what happened to mirror Spock’s pledge to try to reform the Empire before it inevitably collapsed? Well, according to Picard’s research, he actually got reasonably far, then made a misjudged step, offended the wrong person, and his reform efforts failed. At the end, Picard convinces mirror Worf to try again. We also get to see a bit of the Empire’s history. In Duane’s conception, evil humanity and its evil Vulcan allies defeated the Romulans in the Romulan War, then threatened to bombard Romulus unless the Romulans became their slaves. The Romulans then all promptly committed suicide en masse. The Klingons have, on the other hand, been conquered and reduced to slaves, seeing themselves as having lost their honour. Duane regarded the Federation and all its neighbours as only occupying the Orion Spur of the galaxy, and here the Empire has conquered it all – now finding it difficult to hold on to it, as even warp drive takes years to traverse such a vast area. Hence the desire to instead expand into and conquer the prime universe.
Another interesting addition in “Dark Mirror” is the fan favourite character of Reg Barclay. On the other Enterprise, Barclay is Picard’s bodyguard, and the one person who seems to have a virtue: that of absolute loyalty. Our Picard feels bad for him and guilty when he is killed, and ends up giving a commendation to his confused prime counterpart. Less interestingly, Beverly Crusher is reduced to being the ‘captain’s woman’ after alt-Picard is implied to have killed Jack Crusher in the old King David and Uriah gambit. She barely appears and feels like an afterthought.
What “Dark Mirror” does get right about the Mirror Universe, in my opinion, is that it adequately captures Spock’s observation that it is easy for civilised men to pretend to be savages, but not vice versa. The mirror ensign from the start is easily spotted and captured, but Picard, Troi and Geordi all go without being discovered almost throughout the book – when Geordi is captured, it’s more because they think he’s the mirror version plotting for his own benefit. Even though mirror Troi can sense them, they all manage to fool her by evoking the ‘right’ emotions of fear, anger, etc. Duane does a good job of showing the mirror crew to be arrogant, stupid and easily outmanoeuvred – it just feels a bit strange that they somehow also have their powerful ship and its advanced physics they’re using to traverse the dimensions. Having enslaved genius aliens or something would at least have made a tiny amount of sense.
At the end, our Enterprise escapes and is followed back, but Data and Hwiii have discovered how to catapult mirror ships back into their universe, a secret which is rapidly shared across the Federation. Thus endeth Duane’s attempt at the Mirror Universe, which would soon be contradicted on DS9. Of those two approaches, I much prefer Duane’s take on it, which is not saying much. This is still a good book, but it would almost have been better if it had been about generic ‘dark reflection of the crew’ rather than trying to fit it into the Mirror Universe.
The remaining two books I intend to discuss, “Imzadi” and “Q-Squared”, are both ‘Giant’ novels written by Peter David, another name we have met before. “Imzadi” (1992) opens with the closing scenes of “The City on the Edge of Forever”, with an emotionally stressed Kirk (who just had to let Edith Keeler die) muttering ‘Let’s get the hell out of here’. It’s then revealed that this, itself, is a recording of history on the Guardian of Forever (take a shot) being observed by Commodore Data. It’s the future year of 2408, in which Data is the commander of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-F, twice the size and crew of the D. (As an aside, I do wish they had kept going bigger and better with Enterprises rather than the E being smaller and sleeker than the D). Data discusses the Guardian with the scientists assigned to the Federation base there, including an Orion woman named Mary Mac (her real surname is unpronounceable by humans). Another scientist, an alien Sindareen named Mar Loc, has not been seen for some time, and Mary Mac has a strange itchy round mark on her arm, two facts which I’m sure are not suspicious or connected.
Also in 2408, Admiral William Thelonius Riker (this is before the show said what his middle initial stood for!) is a bitter old desk jockey running Starbase 86. He is brought to Betazed by Captain Wesley Crusher of the USS Hood because Lwaxana Troi is dying. She blames him for the death of Deanna Troi back in 2368, saying he should have saved her. Riker clearly doesn’t need telling, having spent the last forty years grieving and agonising about it. He starts telling Wesley about the whole story (flashbacks). Troi died during negotiations with the warmongering Sindareen, and back on ‘Forever World’, Mary Mac has identified this as a focal point of history. I’m sure there can’t be a connection.
As well as being a story about time travel (no surprises there), “Imzadi” is more obviously about Riker and Troi’s relationship, the title taken from a term she used to describe him in the pilot episode. While going through some old things, Riker breaks down and remembers their early days, when he first came to Betazed as a lieutenant after being promoted to first officer of the USS Hood in 2359. As the Hood was recently damaged in a battle with the Sindareen (them again) and is being repaired, Riker spent a few months working at the Federation Embassy on Betazed.
He first met Deanna Troi at a wedding where, as is traditional on Betazed, everyone was in the nude – due to her empathic abilities, she rapidly becomes aware of his interest in her. Though she doesn’t return his feelings, they go out on dates, in which Riker becomes frustrated with his inability to appreciate Betazoid culture and philosophy. However, this is cut short when the Sindareen (again) attack and this leads to a hostage situation. It’s through their shared difficulties that Riker and Troi first connect, but Lwaxana is furious that he ‘took advantage of her’. Interestingly, David presents Riker and Troi’s relationship as a brief fling in the heat of the moment – at least at first – which puts a different spin on how he presents them meeting again on the Enterprise-D and realising there was more behind it.
Back in 2368, Riker has walked in on Troi in bed with another man (involved in the negotiations) but is interrupted by an intruder – his own future self! We then flash back…forward…something to 2408 and Admiral Riker learning from Data about Troi’s death being found to be a focal point in time. The Sindareen were lying to the Federation about showing good faith during the negotiations and used the temporary peace to rebuild their military, causing trouble once again in 2408. If Deanna had not died, she might have spotted their deception with her empathic abilities, and in the other timeline the Sindareen would genuinely have collapsed and had a change of heart. Through an autopsy, Riker also discovers that Troi was killed by a poison that hadn’t been developed yet in 2368, proving she was murdered by a time traveller. However, Data remains rigidly stuck to regulations and argues there’s a slim chance the poison can occur in nature, refusing to help Riker change history again. Riker pretends to give in, but – of course – fakes documents saying he’s on a secret mission and uses the Guardian of Forever (take another shot) to travel back to 2368. Data pursues him.
Admiral Riker appears in one of Barclay’s holoprograms and scares the poor lieutenant off using the holodeck ever again by pretending to be a security program. The admiral meets his younger counterpart and gives him the antidote to the poison, warning him Deanna will soon be dead. It turns out that the man Troi was sleeping with is a Chameloid (from Star Trek VI) posing as him and it was he who delivered the poison. However, future Data takes the place of his past counterpart and tries to kill Troi to keep the timeline ‘uncorrupted’ as he believes. Fortunately, when the Sindareen perpetrator of the plot is stopped, the timeline is changed and both future Riker and Data fade from existence. They reappear on ‘Forever World’ to learn that the perpetrator was actually the missing Sindareen scientist, Mar Loc, and he knocked out Mary Mac with a hypospray to use the Guardian to change history in the first place – hence the mark on her arm. With the timeline restored, Riker steps out from the protected area around the Guardian to hear Troi’s voice in his head, welcoming him home.
“Imzadi” is an excellent work of early TNG fiction, with all sorts of nods to that like bringing up how the Federation in 2359 thought that the ‘Ferengii’ were cannibals. It does suffer from the usual problem of inventing an alien race powerful enough to be a significant threat to the Federation, and who attack them at multiple times over a period of fifty years, whom we’ve otherwise never heard of before or since (unlike some other Peter David creations like the Thallonians and the Selelvians). Creating backstory is always problematic (see my ‘Prequel Problems’ articles) but David’s rendition of Riker and Troi’s romantic backstory is interesting. This story had considerable influence on “All Good Things”, the last episode of TNG, in which similarly Troi is dead and Riker is a greying admiral bitter about it; this means that, in turn, it indirectly had influence on when we finally get to see the ‘actual’ 2400s in Star Trek: Picard, though fortunately in that timeline Troi is alive and she and Riker are happily married.
The final book I’ll be discussing is another ‘Giant’ novel by Peter David, “Q-Squared” (1994). Of all the ones we’ve discussed, this one is probably the purest case of AH. In a nod to a long-standing fan theory, it’s revealed that Trelane from the original series was a young member of the Q continuum; in fact, he is Q’s godson (and possibly his illegitimate actual son). Q, despairing of controlling him, turns to Picard and company for help – which leads to amusing situations such as Trelane bringing Winnie-the-Pooh and friends to life and have them attack a confused Worf’s security team. All of these amusement comes to a shocking halt, however, when a tantrum-throwing Trelane is tempted by a phenomenon called ‘the Heart of the Storm’ that offers him ultimate power to get his own back on Q and others – at the cost of his sanity.
In the background, the Enterprise is on a mission to a planet called Terminus (it turns out that all of this was a largely forgettable background ruse by Trelane) and things aren’t quite right. Each chapter is preceded by a heading title ‘Track A’, ‘Track B’ or ‘Track C’; we are seeing three different timelines, moving in parallel. Interestingly, the ‘OTL’ prime Star Trek timeline is not A but B. Track C is the dark alternative timeline seen in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” where a militarised Starfleet is losing a war with the Klingons; in fact, we briefly get to see that crew arrive too late to save the Enterprise-C and so restore the timeline, as in the episode.
Track C is more thrown in as an afterthought, with the main AH focus being on Track A. This is entirely David’s creation, and is basically like one of those timelines where you throw in absolutely everything you think might be cool and different, all at once. Firstly, this timeline isn’t moving in synch with Track B but several years earlier, showing us the first voyage of the Enterprise. Jack Crusher, alive and well, is in command; Picard was demoted to commander after the loss of the Stargazer and is first officer. Riker was captured years ago on a secret mission after marrying Troi, who’s been waiting for his return ever since. We get to see that Riker has been tortured and psychologically abused by two sadistic Romulan and Cardassian scientists, but he finally manages to escape after an experiment where they try to get him to kill a Bajoran (implied to be Kira Nerys) in return for food. Rescued and brought back to the Federation, he is so psychologically damaged that he no longer recognises Troi, breaking her heart.
Data has more human-like features and is referred to as a ‘humandroid’ (a positronic brain in a human body!) while Worf was rescued by Klingons rather than humans, so has grown up as a regular member of the Klingon Empire. Wesley Crusher died as a child, climbing a tree ‘to see daddy’, and Beverly broke up with the absentee Jack as a consequence, now being Picard’s lover behind his back. Tasha Yar is still alive, and Geordi went into the medical core and became a nurse, as well as having cloned eyes now. Also apparently the engineer Argyle is a woman in this timeline, though the original character was so unmemorable that I doubt anyone noticed. There are plenty of other small changes I’ll have forgotten, and it’s all very interesting for AH speculation.
This alternate crew is interrupted on their maiden voyage by Q crashing through the wall of sickbay. He fled the super-powered, evil Trelane, being damaged and reduced to a spirit, and ultimately ended up at the edge of the galaxy where he accidentally gave Gary Mitchell powers in “Where No One Has Gone Before”. Turns out that this episode actually happened in the alternate timeline, hence why Kirk’s gravestone says ‘James R. Kirk’, McCoy’s not there, and everyone wears slightly different uniforms, ahem. As daft fanwank explanations go, I rather enjoyed this one.
Inevitably, the three timelines start to merge and we get scenes like our Troi and Track A Troi being confronted by the militaristic, paranoid Track C Riker; Jack Crusher seeing a glimpse of the adult Wesley from Track C who runs from him in confusion and then disappears – causing Crusher’s mind to snap, as Trelane had hoped; and much more. In a heartwarming moment, the tortured Track A Riker comes back to himself and saves his wife. Meanwhile, our Picard challenges Trelane to a duel with swords, because we needed something dramatic to put on the cover. Trelane gloats that he plans to destroy every universe, all of reality itself (Davros is writing a strongly-worded letter).
Of course, it turns out this was all a distraction while Q is able to come back and destroy the Heart of the Storm, preventing the destruction of reality. Only a fragment of Trelane remains, being reborn (his existence a time-loop) and he is named for the first time Trelane, as he navigates three ‘lanes’ or timelines, Trey-lane, do you get it.
Peter David later described writing a novel with three intersecting timelines as “The most insane thing I’ve ever done” and his biggest challenge was identifying which timeline each version of a character came from – which may explain why everyone is so dramatically different in Track A and often have different names, ranks, appearances, etc. Considering the idea of colliding timelines was hardly mainstream at the time, the book did rather well, spending five weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. It is arguably David’s most impressive piece of Trek work, as well as one with his trademark sense of fun.
That’s it for the four AH-focused novels I wanted to discuss in detail – next time, we finally (finally) make it to Deep Space Nine.
Tom Anderson is the author of many SLP books including the Look To The West series (Diverge and Conquer, Uncharted Territory, Equal and Opposite Reactions, Cometh the Hour, To Dream Again), The Twilight's Last Gleaming, Not An English Word, The Curse of Maggie, The Unreformed Kingdom, The Surly Bonds of Earth and Well met by Starlight.