I’ve known some readers (not a lot, but a few) who tend to curl their noses at the thought of reading fiction based on licensed properties like Star Trek: The Original Series. I have never been one of those people: I learned to read from a Superman read-along book and, ever since then, I view most any novel as fair game. And there’s something nice about coming to a novel based on a known property: you know the universe, the characters, and backstory are all easy to access and you can jump into the action quickly. I had a craving to read some classic Star Trek, so on a whim I picked up The Antares Maelstrom (2019), if for no other reason than I love a good Wrath of Khan reference. How does the book hold up? Let’s dig in and find out.
Baldur-3 is a distant human colony without ties to the United Federation of Planets, but when a rare mineral is discovered on the planet that is vital to space exploration, it triggers a 23rd century “gold rush” that has would-be prospectors heading to the idyllic world in droves. Of course, Baldur-3 is located on the far side of a notorious region of space, the eponymous Antares Maelstrom. Called in to assist the local government, Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise must walk a delicate tightrope: aiding the people of this proudly independent world while keeping the natives and newcomers from killing each other. Can the intrepid crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise meet the challenge? Will the tensions on Baldur-3 be their undoing or will it be the roiling chaos of the maelstrom itself?
The biggest compliment I can pay to a book like The Antares Maelstrom is that it feels of a piece with the original Star Trek. Author Greg Cox clearly has a great deal of familiarity with the classic characters, and it shows. I could easily hear William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, and Leonard Nimoy in their respective portrayals of Kirk, McCoy, and Spock.
The other characters are put to great use here, with each of the seven leads getting time to shine in the adventure. There are also some wonderful Easter eggs hidden throughout the novel, with references to past adventures, future events, and even Star Trek: Discovery.
The plot allows us to explore an element of the utopian future of Star Trek that’s never quite been explained: namely the pursuit of wealth. In the core worlds of the Federation, all your wants and creature comforts are accounted for, but on colony worlds and the frontier, the allure of making money still has a pull. It’s interesting to see Federation citizens suddenly hit with a fever for profits, and while we don’t get sat down and given an explanation of how the post-scarcity economy of the Federation actually works, we do see that people still can and will do crazy things in the name of personal prosperity, even in the more enlightened 23rd century of Star Trek.
The eponymous maelstrom is a reference to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and it was fun to see the actual location put to use within a Star Trek story (of course, how Khan knew about it is likely fodder for a future tale).
My complaints are few, but of course there is a problem central to all novels based on licensed properties: you know with certainty there’s no real jeopardy for our heroes. Things will get dire, certainly, but there’s no actual risk the Enterprise will be destroyed or any of the lead characters will be significantly harmed. Much like professional wrestling, you have to accept the fix is in and that the match has been choreographed well in advance.
Still, one of the best arguments that can be made for Greg Cox’s writing (and the Titan Books Star Trek novels in general) is that they manage to create an illusion of real peril that allows us to suspend our disbelief. Much like with going back and watching the series in syndication, you’ll thrill in the moment and savor the adventure every step of the way with this tale set during the era of the series that started it all. Recommended.