Okay, that’s unfair. The book’s not actually bad. I mean, the basic premise is great – lots of us wondered what happened after the “five year mission” of the Enterprise ended that brought our heroes to where we found them at the beginning of The Motion Picture. Why did Kirk take a promotion that he clearly wasn’t happy with? What drove Spock to abandon his quest to balance his Vulcan and human halves and embrace kolinahr – the casting off of all emotion? And what, in an otherwise rational and orderly galaxy, transformed the Bones we all know and love into the bearded monstrosity we’ve all come to know as Disco Bones?
Character-wise, it’s pretty spot-on. Kirk only takes his promotion on the promise of being a diplomatic troubleshooter, guaranteed to continue his galaxy hopping adventures unencumbered by that greatest fear of all Starfleet captains: a desk. Spock, discovering that his BFF isn’t holding a First Officer’s chair for him on a new ship, throws a passive-aggressive hissy fit and resigns his commission. In fact, the first act of the book is quite solid in showing the disappointment and life-changing decisions that Kirk’s promotion forces in all the people who assumed they were just between starship assignments. I mean, while it seems a bit silly that all these people take their cues from what Kirk does next, this is actually largely consistent with what we’ve seen in stories set before and after this.
It also picks up on some threads from the series – most notably Bones’ promise to return to his ladyfriend from “For the World is Hollow…” And in a nice “women aren’t all fawning idiots who carry a torch indefinitely for a dude” turn, she’s moved on with her life and forced him to do the same. In a few short chapters, the author steers the dejected McCoy from one failed attempt at a relationship to the glowing embers of a potential new one. This, again, is handled quite well. In general, the new characters that Dillard introduces are well fleshed-out, and more importantly, don’t feel like “who cares?” characters on account of us never having heard of them before or since these events. Not an easy task for stories like this.
But then there’s the overall plot, which involves every character who isn’t Kirk or Spock being kidnapped at various points, some incredibly unlikely chance encounters (just how small is the galaxy, anyway?) and the primary antagonist: a long-dead evil Vulcan sorcerer.
That’s right, friends. The events of this story culminate in – I swear I am not exaggerating or misrepresenting this – a wizard’s duel. Sure, Dillard makes an attempt to cloak it all in pseudoscience, but in all the ways the prophets/wormhole aliens were deftly handled on Deep Space Nine, these ancient Vulcan magicians are not. I have a pretty high suspension of disbelief threshold when it comes to Trek, but this… yeah, no. Pulp, I can deal with. Camp, less so. And camp amidst otherwise grounded human drama? Not at all.
The Lost Years is technically the first in a series of (I think) four books intended to flesh out this period in Trek canon, but honestly, there aren’t any major dangling plot threads at the end of this book. And while I may check out the remaining books in the series, it’ll be to wash out the taste of this book’s third act, not to satisfy any remaining curiosity.