The Fearful Summons book review
Currently, it’s very on trend for classic heroes to be given one last adventure. This summer sees the return of both Michael Keaton’s Batman and Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. Meanwhile, Star Trek: Picard Season 3 promises to give fans a final adventure of the TNG crew, reuniting those characters two decades after we last saw all of them together. Unfortunately, due to many of the TOS cast members no longer being with us, it’s no longer possible for the original Star Trek crew to have one final adventure on the big or small screen. But there have been several Star Trek novels that take place after Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and have reunited the TOS crew for one last run around the galaxy. They include The Fearful Summons, a novel written by one of the screenwriters of The Undiscovered Country: Denny Martin Flinn.
The plot of The Fearful Summons involves the former crew of the Enterprise-A reuniting to rescue the crew of the Excelsior and Captain Sulu, who have been kidnapped by a group of aliens, the Beta Prometheans.
When we’re eventually reunited with James Kirk, we find him retired and trying to stay youthful. Kirk is not doing anything particularly exciting, such as orbital skydiving, but is visiting a mall to purchase hip new clothes. Hearing about Sulu’s kidnapping, Kirk heads to the local pub — which the admirals and officers of Starfleet frequent after they have finished their shifts — to find out more information. He ends up regaling a group of recently graduated cadets with stories of his adventures. One of the cadets, Barbara O’Marla, takes a particular shine to Kirk, and they end up back at his apartment, where Kirk proceeds to sleep with the cadet.
Once the crew is reunited in a number of scenes that were taken from an unfilmed prologue to The Undiscovered Country, they decide to requisition a starship. What course of action does the crew take next? Is it to commandeer the Enterprise-A and take it out of mothballs? Is it boarding another Starfleet ship, such as the TOS-era classic Constitution? Or perhaps a pleasure ship? Yes, these are the voyages of the Plush Princess, to boldly go where no pleasure ship has gone before!
Not to spoil the ending, but some highlights include: an encounter with robot duplicates of the Excelsior and its crew who have taken the Excelsior officers’ uniforms, leaving the original personnel sitting around in their underwear; Kirk and Bones being made up to look like Klingons by Spock — who has embraced amateur theatre; and finally the crew of the ship getting drunk at a pub with the best of Starfleet.
At first, I became intrigued by The Fearful Summons, which promised “a stunning sequel to Star Trek VI.” Surely this would be a sure-fire hit. Unfortunately not!
The Fearful Summons has the distinction of being the worst Star Trek book I have ever read. The story is littered with continuity issues and scientific gaffes.
Even the blurb of the book has issues, calling the Beta Promethean antagonists “Thraxians”, which they are never referred to in the course of the book. I kept expecting another alien race to arrive!
Frustratingly, the crew of the Excelsior are different to the crew that features in the movies and various other Excelsior-focused stories. The characters that Denny has replaced them with are bland and forgettable.
There are also awkward issues with how the female characters are portrayed. For example, the captured female Excelsior officers are treated as weak and ineffectual, needing to be protected and looked after by their male superiors. This obviously contravenes Gene Roddenberry’s belief that the sexes would be equal in the future.
Having Kirk head to a local bar to seek intel about Sulu’s kidnapping is an idea that, if executed well, could have been interesting. Instead, Starfleet being presented as basically a 9-5 office job is just odd.
Also problematic is when sixty-year-old Kirk beds Cadet Barbara O’Marla. She is, at best, thirty-five years his junior. Shatner’s Kirk was always a ladies’ man, but this pushes the boundaries of credibility. It also cheapens the character of Barbara, as her motives become questionable. Is she looking to advance her career? Does she want to take advantage of Kirk? Or is she simply another weak female character who instantly falls for the dashing leading man?
One of the oddest choices Denny makes is giving the female characters old-fashioned names like “Violet” and “Barbara”. Perhaps I’m being overly critical, but as both names are connected with elderly people, I found it hard to associate the names with supposedly attractive, young characters.
When it turned out that a pleasure ship was to become a main setting of this book, I almost decided to stop reading. However, a morbid curiosity to find out how bizarre the story could get overtook me. I chose to plough on.
It was hard to reconcile this book with canon. Kirk is referred to as “commander” by several characters, including Sulu. Starfleet seems unrecognisable from the institution we are familiar with. None of the crew are portrayed as anything other than caricatures of themselves. The book reads like the author only has a passing understanding of the characters from mainstream media and has created a story based on only that knowledge.
No character in the story has a defined arc. Kirk, although struggling with retirement, doesn’t find a purpose or comes to terms with the fact he is getting old. He ends the book as he started it.
This novel reads as a first draft, where the author has simply outlined his story and organised his characters’ journeys. It needed another draft to define story arcs, tighten up obvious issues, and ensure it fits within continuity. But unfortunately, such a revision evidently never happened. The novel has the basis for an interesting story, but when you can’t recognise a single character or connect the world to the Star Trek universe, you know you’re in trouble.
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!