Era: Enterprise, Season 1
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Social SF
Publication Date: 2003
First contact is the reason Jonathan Archer travels, but what do you do when communication with aliens is impossible? And when there are two aliens on the same world, are your problems doubled . . ?
By the Book is the very first Enterprise novel, written before the pilot even aired. As such, it doesn’t do anything terribly daring, focusing instead on telling a classic Star Trek tale while showcasing the new crew. In that, it fits right in alongside other early episodes of the TV series. There are a few continuity errors, mostly to do with rank, but nothing that gets in the way of the story. Given that the authors only had production notes to base the characters on, there’s also a sense that the characters are somewhat caricatures of themselves. Trip is always interrupting with folksy dialogue, Archer is even more anti-Vulcan than he is on screen, and there’s a slightly stilted feel to proceedings.
That being said, two characters are served incredibly well by Smith and Rusch, and they are Hoshi Sato and Travis Mayweather. It’s no secret that Hoshi is one of my favourite Trek characters, and it is delightful to see her getting some page time at this early stage. While she was often underutilised in Enterprise, her role here is exactly what it should be. This is a book all about communications difficulties, so of course the communications officer has a lot to do. Nerd that I am, I could happily read entire books dedicated to deciphering alien language, so this slim offering is just perfect for me. Travis, meanwhile, was probably even less well-used on the show, but here he’s the heart that holds the crew together, a role I would have loved to see more of on the screen. there’s only a certain amount a pilot has to do in any given script, so having Travis focus on the social side of ship life is a perfect balance, and only natural given his background.
While the main story is of course that of first contact, almost half the book is dedicated to something rather different. Travis and a handful of other low-ranking crewmembers are playing a tabletop role-playing game. As a gamer myself, it was bizarre seeing my two hobbies come together like this, and Cutler’s struggles as a Games Master is possibly the most relatable thing I’ve ever read. Weirdly, this secondary story doesn’t cross over with the main one. There’s a small amount of thematic similarity, but that’s the extent of their links. Other than the fact that characters swap between the game world and the real world, these could almost be a pair of novellas rather than a single novel. Having a story within a story is always a gamble, but here it really sells the communal feeling of the crew that has always been one of Star Trek‘s defining features.
This isn’t a book that will change the world, but it’s a nice little slice of Star Trek that gives quality material to two underappreciated characters.