The High Country book review
The following article contains spoilers for the book under review, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – The High Country.
With the launch of a new television series, tie-in books inevitably follow. The honour of penning the debut Star Trek: Strange New Words novel has fallen to New York Times bestselling author John Jackson Miller. Miller is no stranger to this particular crew, as he has previously written for Pike, Spock and Number One in the Discovery Season 2 tie-in novel The Enterprise War, back in 2019. This is, however, the first time he has written for the entire crew featured in the hit TV series Strange New Worlds.
In his novel The High Country, Miller expertly captures the voices and personalities of the Enterprise crew, which is to be particularly commended as he wrote the book whilst the first season was in production. Previous debut novels that tie into other Star Trek TV series have been plagued with small continuity issues due to this same reason. For example, Voyager’s holographic doctor was famously referred to as “Doctor Zimmerman” in the early Voyager tie-in books. But fortunately, there are no similar continuity issues to be found in this novel.
Whilst promoting Season 1 of Strange New Worlds, Anson Mount revealed that he would love to star in a Western-themed episode. The biggest compliment I can give John Jackson Miller is that it would be hard for the TV writers of such an episode to top the ideas and story he has crafted in this novel.
Set between the seventh and eighth episodes of the TV series, The High Country begins with Captain Pike, Spock, Number One and Uhura piloting an experimental shuttlecraft that soon malfunctions. Forced to abandon ship, the crewmembers are scattered across — if you will pardon the pun — a strange new world.
Number One finds herself fighting to survive vicious animals in the untamed jungle, forging a friendship with a naturalist who has a surprising background. Uhura meanwhile awakens in a volcanic wasteland where the laws of physics are not what they seem. Spock regains consciousness deep underwater, only alive thanks to his survival suit, whilst Captain Pike finds himself experiencing his childhood fantasy of becoming a cowboy.
I must confess that, when reading the blurb of the novel, I was concerned that this story would be retreading old ground. It seems almost a rite of passage for a Star Trek TV series to have a Western-themed episode, from TOS’ “Spectre of the Gun” and TNG’s “A Fistful of Datas” to Enterprise’s “North Star”. I wondered what more could be done within this genre. Although initially many of the traditional Western tropes are introduced here, Miller subverts the reader’s expectations by turning them on their head and expanding the scope of the novel beyond what is initially promised.
Surprisingly, the novel ties into several Enterprise episodes, including the aforementioned “North Star” and the Vulcan/Syrrannite trilogy. I found it especially rewarding how it does so. Specifically, Pike and later Hemmer reminiscing about Captain Archer and the NX-01 was beautifully done and showed Miller’s deep understanding of the franchise’s continuity, showing reverence for it and expanding on it too. There were also several callbacks to Miller’s previous novel set in this era, The Enterprise War, which helped give background and motivation to the lead characters’ motives within this tale.
The novel is filled with memorable side characters, especially within Pike’s section of the book. Jennie and her father Joe particularly stand out. Miller builds a unique world for these characters to inhabit. Nearby towns are filled with colourful characters and, as the adventure progresses, many surprising alien races turn up in the most unexpected of ways.
There’s another prominent character that links back to Pike’s childhood, which I won’t spoil here but has a surprising reunion with the captain of the Enterprise. This character is used as a foil for Pike and the choices he has made within his own life, allowing them to be debated in a quintessential Star Trek manner.
Number One is paired with a character called “Celarius”, who initially appears to be something of a huntsman/naturalist but hides a family secret that takes that particular storyline into surprising territory. One of the main critiques of Strange New Worlds was that Number One found herself sidelined in several episodes. That’s not the case here — she is given a strong storyline, which allows her to demonstrate why she is the first officer of the flagship.
Spock and Uhura have exciting adventures that would push the budget of the TV series to its limits. Highlights include Uhura’s companion — a sentient fireball whose existence has a moral impact on the outcome of the story — and Spock’s reintroduction into the story aboard a naval vessel.
I must also compliment John Jackson Miller on his writing style. Chapters are short and snappy. They flow into each other, making the novel easy to read and hard to put down. By the novel’s conclusion, you feel that these characters have evolved because of what they have experienced.
Another fun feature of the book is the use of maps, at the start and at certain points of the novel. It hasn’t been since “A Stitch in Time”, written by Garak actor Andrew Robinson and published in the year 2000, since a Star Trek novel featured maps. I found them useful with orientating myself to specific locations featured in this novel.
Strange New Worlds as a series naturally seems more fun and less bleak than the other post-2017 Star Trek shows, and this feeds into Millers’ writing. Characters are funny and witty, the story is grand in scope while also including plenty of touching character moments, but it never stops being fun. Our characters are explorers and, even though they go through plenty of harrowing experiences, they don’t forget that. They investigate and revel in the wonders of this unknown planet.
I would highly recommend The High Country. It’s an exciting, fun-filled adventure story that fits perfectly within the tone and style of the series it’s based on. Expanding on the events of Star Trek lore, it features faithful characterisations of our favourite crew members and tells a great story.
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!