BOOK REVIEW: The Latter Fire, by James Swallow

-this review contains mild spoilers, continue at your own risk-

latter.jpg

Era: The Original Series/The Animated Series

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: Social SF

Pages: 384

Publication Date: 10/03/2016

Verdict: 5/5

Kirk and the Enterprise are on a mission to initiate diplomatic relations with a newly-spacefaring species. But when they arrive for the talks, they find that the Syhaari are far more advanced than expected. Could the Enterprise crew be to blame, or is there something more sinister afoot . . ?

It’s been a long while since I read a Star Trek book. Back in my late teens, I dived headlong into the Romulan War, the Destiny trilogy and the Typhon Pact story arc. But these two events aside, nothing stuck with me, and I soon drifted away from the expanded universe. Over the past three years, however, I’ve fallen back in love with Star Trek, having rewatched TNG, DS9 and Voyager (Enterprise will undoubtedly be next),  as well as keeping up with new releases, and this has prompted me to give the novels a second look. James Swallow’s The Latter Fire is the first Star Trek I’ve read in around five years, and it could not have been a better reintroduction to the franchise.

Bridging the gap between Original Series and Animated Series, The Latter Fire begins with Chekov leaving the Enterprise and being repliced by the three-armed alien Arex. As with animation, the medium of literature allows for more diverse aliens than the limited effects and costuming of the TV era ever could. I’ll be the first to admit that the original series is not my favourite part of the Star trek canon, but Swallow captures the spirit of what makes it great, and that is big characters, important philosophy, and spectacular SF ideas.

Starting with the characters, Swallow has an immediae and impressive grip on those famous spaces. Spock is spot-on, and it’s easy to imagine the iconic Leonard Nimoy delivering the lines here. The rest of the Enterprise crew are equally well drawn, from Kirk, uhura and the others, to ones I am less familiar with, Arex and M’Ress. The Syhaari too are well-rounded individuals, from the inquisitive Kaleo to the aggressive Tormid. In a way, these are archetypes of any Trek story, but they go beyond this to become genuinely interesting characters in their own right.

The thing that has always separated Star trek from other genres is its willingness to go all the way with its weird science. Perhaps Doctor Who gets close, but Trek always has the technobabble to back up its discoveries. This is on full display in Swallow’s novel, as Kirk and his crew come into contact with a living planet. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of Cosmozoa, an idea that seems to stem from Star Trek, but does appear elsewhere. Massive, spacefaring creatures are just fascinating, no matter which way you look at it. Like the best of Star TrekThe Latter Fire brings that sense of wonder at the possibilities of the universe.

The Latter Fire reads like the very best episodes of Star Trek, but tells a story that could only be done as a novel. This is a very promising start to my dive back into the franchise, and I’ll definitely be seeking out more from Swallow in the future.

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