Harm’s Way book review
In life, certain things go together to create magic: Lennon and McCartney with music; and in the case of Star Trek literature, TOS and David Mack. With the last Star Trek novel of the year, Mack builds an engaging and tense voyage for the original crew which sits proudly alongside their greatest adventures.
Harm’s Way is set during the second season, a few days after “The Doomsday Machine” and one month after Spock’s visit to Vulcan in “Amok Time”. Both classic TOS episodes have had a profound impact on Kirk and Spock, and the ramifications are dealt with throughout the novel.
The Enterprise has orders to rescue civilian scientist Doctor Johron Verdo, whose vessel, the S.S. Heyerdahl, has crashed on the inhospitable surface of the planet Kolasi III, located in the Neutral Zone. Unfortunately, the Enterprise is not the only interested party regarding the missing scientist. Firstly, they must deal with the crew of the Starfleet vessel Sagittarius, a scout ship with links to the mysterious Operation Vanguard.
No prior knowledge of the Vanguard series of novels are needed to read this book, as Mack introduces characters and starships logically and naturally into the prose. However, if you are familiar with the series, there will be several big payoffs. It’s commendable how easily the Enterprise and Vanguard characters meld together.
The character of Doctor Babitz makes a strong impression as an unconventional clinician who has a fear of germs. Although played for humour early in the novel, she comes into her own by the story’s conclusion. Captain Nassir and his first officer Commander Clark Terrell are also well developed; it’s especially enjoyable to see the latter in his pre-Reliant days.
The novel features a number of links to the movie era with many little references and easter eggs which start to sow the connective tissue between the Original Series and movie eras, most prominently Admiral Nogura, who demonstrates why he is so feared in The Motion Picture. Will Decker is also mentioned, and one wonders if Kirk’s hand in the fate of his father leads to his eventual recommendation for Decker to take command of the Enterprise.
Particularly enjoyable parts of the book are the chapters detailing the day-to-day running of the Enterprise and the insights into what the crew do on their off time, when they’re away from the action of an episode. Chekov and Sulu share a particularly pleasant scene early on, which highlights their friendship effectively.
Mack creates such beautifully rounded versions of our beloved mix of TOS characters that it’s not hard to imagine William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy performing the scenes depicted. Characters act and talk exactly how we would expect them to. Mack shows a deep level of understanding and reverence when dealing with the crew, clearly appreciative of exactly what makes these characters tick.
Also praiseworthy are Spock’s conversations dealing with deep moral issues that are at the core of any good Star Trek tale. The events of Spock’s first pon farr, as portrayed in “Amok Time”, weigh heavily on him and there are several interesting discoveries to be made about his past.
It was also effective to pair Spock with Sulu on the planet surface. That combination seems an unconventional partnership on paper but proves to be an interesting dynamic.
Mack gives Kirk plenty to do as captain of the Enterprise and demonstrates why his tactical prowess is so well regarded. But again, it’s in the quieter moments where his character shines, particularly when attempting to formulate a letter of condolence to the widow and son of Matt Decker.
Unfortunately, the rest of the crew don’t have a great deal to do, other than their standard jobs. Scotty shines as an engineer, Uhura produces a novel way of communicating when conventional methods are unavailable and, of course, Bones gets to be his normal snarky self — popping up with his usual grumpy wit.
Mack has, in previous novels, shown skill with expanding our knowledge of familiar races and Harm’s Way is no exception, featuring a deep dive into TOS-era Klingons and the inner psyche of Captain Kang. His wife Mara is another character who is expanded and given an interesting story arc. She has a surprising amount of humour, and her role in the story delves into the specifics of how a married Klingon couple serve together.
With this excellent novel, David Mack has again exemplified why he’s considered one of the great Star Trek authors. His fast-paced writing style makes the novel a breeze to get through, and his knowledge of the whole Star Trek universe makes this a joy from start to finish. If you pick up one novel from those released in 2022, I recommend this one. Filled with adventure and humour and featuring fully realised versions of our favourite characters, this novel will not disappoint.
Jamie Flint has been a Star Trek fan since he was four years old and caught the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on television. He quickly devoured the other movies and TV episodes and can fondly remember being the youngest person in the cinema watching Generations.
Thirty years later, you’ll find him watching all the series — both new and old — with his little family. Oh, and he is a big defender of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier!