In 1989, 10 years after the theatrical release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and two after the debut of the syndicated Star Trek: The Next Generation television series, Pocket Books committed itself to the publication of The Lost Years series of novels set in the nebulous two-and-a-half year-long period between the end of the original Starship Enterprise’s five-year mission and the events depicted in ST: TMP. Starting with J.M. Dillard’s The Lost Years, , Pocket Books had at least two other novels either ready for publication or in pre-production – Brad Ferguson’s A Flag Full of Stars and Irene Kress’ The War Virus. (This latter book, for some reason, never was published; instead, the publisher released a book named Traitor Winds. )
Although far from being perfect, Dillard’s The Lost Years was at least a somewhat interesting account of the final moments of Capt. James T. Kirk’s five-year-mission, his reluctant promotion to flag rank, the departures of Spock and Dr. McCoy from Starfleet, and the beginnings of Kirk’s relationship with Vice Admiral Lori Ciana, an ambitious woman whose plans to become Starfleet’s diplomatic liaison to the Federation Council hinge greatly on Kirk’s acceptance of admiral’s stars and the success of their first mission together. These important story threads were interwoven with a plot involving Romulans and the return of a power-hungry Vulcan mind-lord whose katra had been imprisoned because he had opposed Surak’s philosophies of peace, the casting out of “animal passions,” and the pursuit of logic.
A Flag Full of Stars takes up the storyline eight months after the events of The Lost Years. James Tiberius Kirk is still deskbound at Starfleet Command in San Francisco, and not even his appointment as Chief of Starfleet Operations can make him feel happy with his admiral’s stars. He was, after all, dragooned into accepting flag rank by Fleet Admiral Heihachiro Nogura, and his desire for starship command – particularly command of the Enterprise – has not diminished one bit. Not only is he restless behind his office desk at Starfleet Headquarters, but his unhappiness is eating away at his marriage with Admiral Ciana, who in turn is equally unhappy because her plans have gone dreadfully awry.
As the novel opens, Starfleet has placed the renovation of the USS Enterprise under the direct supervision of Kirk’s Starfleet Operations section, a move intended by Admiral Nogura to string the former captain along into the labyrinth of the Admiralty while giving Kirk a loose connection to the starship, which is now under the command of Capt. Will Decker. Nogura approves Kirk’s recommendation that the saucer section be refurbished on Earth rather than in orbit, hoping that this sop will make Kirk happy and realize that he can best serve the Federation as a desk jockey rather than in the captain’s center seat.
This doesn’t really make Jim Kirk very happy, nor does it improve his marriage to Lori one bit. Ciana feels – and rightly so – that Nogura was stringing her along with the promised ambassadorship post so she could entice Kirk into accepting promotion. This, and the realization that she’s no substitute for the Enterprise in Kirk’s heart and soul, eats away at her genuine affection for her husband.
She lifted her hand from the companel. As a dutiful spouse, she should have called Jim to offer moral support – but then, she’d never been particularly dutiful. She’d withdrawn, and Jim hadn’t even noticed. If she called him now, it would only startle him, and the resulting conversation would be awkward.
Her hesitance to call her own husband was a bad sign, and Lori knew it. Jim Kirk didn’t need her anymore. In a way, they had both disappointed each other: he had no ship, she had no diplomatic post. She looked at Jim now and saw her own failure.
The way he looked at her had changed as well; his expression was a little grimmer, a little more distant, more preoccupied. Older. Did he see in her his failure to get his old command back?
As Ciana is deciding to end her marriage and Kirk is half-heartedly overseeing the refit of Enterprise, Klingon operatives on Earth are keeping a close eye on G’dath, a most atypical Klingon scientist who, in addition to owning a cat named Leaper and teaches physics to human kids in San Francisco, is a rarity among his warrior-race – a peace-seeking physicist who is working on a new device that promises to revolutionize space travel. If he gives it to the Federation, the Klingons fear, the mysterious globe-like device might give Starfleet a huge technological advantage over the Empire’s warships.
Predictably, of course, the Klingon agents steal G’dath’s invention, and of course Jim Kirk – along with his new Chief of Staff Lt. Commander Kevin T. Riley – is the Federation’s only obstacle between an uneasy peace with the Klingon Empire…or an all-out war.
Although most of Kirk’s old crew and Capt. Decker make what amounts to being glorified cameos, Ferguson focuses on the admiral, G’dath, and Riley, with mixed results. I do like the premise of telling the story of “the lost years” between The Original Series’ “Turnabout Intruder” and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and I appreciate the first two books’ attempts to pick up the Kirk-Ciana storyline from Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of the first feature film. There are also some interesting riffs on racism (some of G’dath’s students have sizable roles in the novel, and anti-Klingon feeling is reflected in their use of the term turtlehead). I also like, to some extent at least, Ferguson’s account of the refit – his description of the launch of the saucer section is, as Mr. Spock would say, fascinating.
Having said that, I can’t really say that this novel is really enjoyable. Everyone, it seems, is pretty unhappy – not only Kirk and Ciana, but Riley, as well. His own relationship woes affect his job as Kirk’s chief of staff, and, frankly, even though he does straighten out his act by the novel’s end, his initial moodiness not only gets on Kirk’s nerves but mine, as well. Also, there aren’t enough scenes with Kirk’s old crew except for a few “cameos.” And of course, there isn’t really an ending to the story per se; it is, after all, the middle book of a trilogy in a larger story that Star Trek fans know will end with the beginning of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.