Era: Post-The Original Series
Series: Seekers (#1)
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Social SF
Publication Date: 2014
With the threat posed by the Shedai at an end, Starfleet can return to its roots: Exploration. The Taurus Reach still holds many secrets, and no one is better equipped to uncover them than the crew of the USS Sagittarius . . .
Picking up a few months after the end of Storming Heaven, Second Nature is a very different sort of story to the preceding eight-part epic. This book isn’t a standalone (it ends on a cliffhanger) but it feels much more episodic than serialised. The scale is narrower, the scope tighter. It’s a short book, brisk and full of action, and doesn’t feel like the start of a new journey so much as the middle instalment of another. In both content and presentation, it’s closer than any other book to the soul of The Original Series. If I liked 60s Star Trek more, that might have worked to its advantage, but as it stands, Second Nature left very little impression on me.
What Mack does well is capture the spirit of the Roddenberry era. Let’s start with the over, which is as charmingly retro as they come. It’s a clear homage to the James Blish novelisations of the past, and firmly anchors Second Nature in that period of heroic exploration. That anchor is present in the storytelling too. Required budget aside, this could easily be an adventure for Kirk and company. The thematic ties are obvious. A seemingly primitive world that harbours a secret, a moral quandary, and a handful of phaser-fights. It’s all classic stuff. Even if it does end on a cliffhanger, this is narratively a perfect match for the episodes of old.
Beyond that thematic and stylistic similarity, there are direct ties to previous works too. Kang, the fearsome Klingon leader from ‘Day of the Dove,’ plays a large role, and is well-used as an antagonist. There is a major connection to one specific TOS episode that I won’t mention for spoiler reasons. And it’s not just television that this book ties too. Many of the characters will be familiar to Vanguard readers, while others are members of species rooted in the 23rd century.
All this is wonderful, but it’s the same familiarity that gets Seekers off to a limping start. For all the classic elements, there’s not much on offer that’s new. Yes, this hearkens back to a golden era of science fiction storytelling, but the boundaries are not being pushed in the same way. This is a perfectly serviceable story, and I enjoyed it, but it won’t go down as one of my favourites. Some of that is the change in pace from the heights of Vanguard, but more than that, this doesn’t feel like it’s boldly going. I appreciate it, I like it, but there are many better Star Trek books out there.
All in all, Second Nature is a fun little diversion, but it can’t quite live up to the pedigree of the series that spawned it.