BOOK REVIEW: Wonderlands, by Una McCormack

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  • A standalone novel
  • Features the characters of Discovery
  • Published by Pocket Books in 2021
  • Space Opera
  • 333 pages
  • ⭐⭐⭐

Michael Burnham has travelled to the distant future. Not knowing when her crew will arrive, Burnham must adapt to this strange new world. But with uncertain alliances, no Federation, and danger at every turn, the future may be even more dangerous than the past . . .

For those who don’t know, the first two seasons of Discovery were set in the mid-twenty-third century. At the end of the second season, the ship and its crew travel nine hundred years into their future, with no chance of return. In universe, this was done to prevent a malevolent AI taking over the Federation. Behind the scenes, it was a bid to break free of the increasingly tangled continuity the show found itself stuck in. It was, without a doubt, the boldest narrative decision the show made, and it was also one of the best. Whatever may be said of the actual execution of later seasons, this time jump allowed for storytelling and episodes that no other incarnation of Star Trek had the opportunity to tell. This is one more of those storries.

Wonderlands takes place between the first two episodes of the third season, covering the year that Burnham spent alone in the future before Discovery‘s arrival in the second episode. Onscreen, we’ve only been told a few things about that time. Mostly that Burnham took up courier work and became close friends with one Cleveland Booker (and his cat, Grudge), all while searching in vain for evidence that the Federation still existed. It’s a pretty long span of time, and vague enough that there is plenty of room for additional storytelling. And Wonderlands certainly has a lot of stories to tell. Maybe too many.

There is a lot to unpack here. First we have Burnham’s personal struggles to adapt to life in the future. The fact that she has to pay for things now is the least of her concerns, because she also has to hide her origins from everyone she meets. At least that’s the theory. In practice, she tells a lot of people. But this is the only thread that runs through the whole book. beside like her interpersonal relationships, the story then gets more than a bit choppy. At first it seems like we’ll be dealing with planetary raiders in a Magnificent Seven style stand-off. Except that’s wrapped up quite swiftly. Then we go to an isolationist world, where we stay for all of one chapter before skipping off to new horizons. After that, it’s the part with the most potential, as we reach a generation ship. Generation ships have always interested me, and they’re something Trek has handled on one or two occasions before. But we don’t spend much time here either. One brief civil war later and we’re visiting a space station that looks Federation, but certainly isn’t. There’s a sort-of full circle approach as it turns out that the raiders from earlier have a connection to the station, but by this point too much has happened. The ship has sailed, and taken my interest with it.

I come away from Wonderlands with more frustration than anything else. McCormack’s writing is as strong as ever. We get a signature Cardassian, and it captures the tone of the show nicely. But there’s just too much going on here. Of the four locations visited, each one could easily have supported a whole novel on its own. But we never get to go into any real depth with any of them. What we see is tantalising, but it’s too constrained by the need to fix everything and move on to the next thing. I’m also less than convinced by some of the solutions put forward, which amount to insurrection in one case, and kidnapping in another. This could easily have been several really good novels. As it stands, it’s one rather mediocre one.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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