Reading: My Final Frontier. This is the year 2020 and I have all but given up on my mission: to regain some reading mojo; to seek out new books and ideas; to boldly read books I have not read before. And yet, my brain just can’t. It’s rough. I feel like the energy needed to read a new book would be enough to power the USS Enterprise. By now, you have probably picked up on the theme here: I have journeyed home to seek out guidance from books I have already read, explored, and loved. Yeah, I went searching for the best Star Trek books. I wanted to reconnect with the very spirit of the Federation itself.
Herein lies the trap, the Kobayashi Maru of my mission to read the best Star Trek books. It is a no-win scenario because I am not the same person today compared to the first time I read a Star Trek novel (many many moons ago). Not only has my reading style changed, so too have my expectations on the creative minds behind the LONG list of Star Trek novels. Most noticeably, I would expect some diversity in the authors. Since the first publication of Star Trek 1 by James Blish in 1967, there have been over 850 Star Trek novels, short story anthologies, novelisations, and omnibus editions (!!). I’m not entirely sure if this includes the comics as well but if not, the number would be closer to 1000.
Out of all of these, I can count the writers of color on one hand. Now, given we are talking about science fiction literature which, unfortunately, is renowned for its history being comparable to a very masculine White Dwarf Star. However, we are also talking about Star Trek, a geek culture unto itself considered to be the pinnacle of utopian diversity and opportunity for all. And while I can comfortably find some gender diversity in the authorship, I no longer believe our idealistic future is going to be based on the heavily influenced white-washed western culture as portrayed in the Hollywood perspective.
For the sole purpose of revisiting the Star Trek novels, I have scanned my favourites based on the diversity of authors and/characters. Previous Book Riot articles have delved into the best of the series, even touching on the best way to read Star Trek books. Peter Damien shared his favourites here, while Kristen McQuinn has a great and detailed list of her own here.
Where To Start
Of course, with over 850 books to work with, any list of “favourites” is going to seem a little overwhelming. Let’s find a sensible starting point.
It all depends on what you are looking for. Do you know the franchise really really well? Or does your foundation knowledge extend as far as Chris Hemsworth’s iconic opening scene in the movie reboot? (Now there’s a character portrayal to motivate my reading mojo). You could start in chronological order or you could pick out your favourite movie/TV storyline and find the books to continue from there.
Personally, I’m going with the core elements of Star Trek. There are plenty of books to expand on specific storylines or pivotal plotholes. However, my preference has always been for books to expand on the very soul of Star Trek. If you are new to Star Trek books, these suggestions will shine a light on the ‘bones’ of the Star Trek Universe: the Prime Directive, Starfleet Academy, First Contact, the Klingons, the Vulcans. For any Trekkies, the same books will remind you how well these stories can come together. And just to make it easier for us all, I have grouped the books within the television series. Sometimes the stories can crossover, so I’ve added a final group for those books too.
No matter where you start, there is a fair consistency of facts and style across all Star Trek novels (minus any reboots). Star Trek fans are known for their attention to detail and their demand for consistency. Gene Roddenberry (the original creator) was a supporter of fan fiction and the initial fanzine, Spocknalia. He considered any fan fiction to be a compliment, a statement of their love and passion for the series – which was exactly what he had hoped to gain from the television series.
The Best Star Trek: The Original Series Books (ST:OS)
The Kobayashi Maru by Julia Ecklar
There are a handful of phrases you will hear throughout the Star Trek series, no matter where you start. One of these is the Kobayashi Maru: a training exercise given to every cadet who aspires to join Starfleet. The ultimate goal is to rescue the civilian vessel Kobayashi Maru in a simulation battle with the Klingons. There is no ‘win’ in this scenario, making the test more about character than skill or knowledge. In The Kobayashi Maru, Ecklar tells the story of four separate characters from ST:OS, giving us great insight through their varied approaches to the infamous test. I consider this to be The Starting Book for Star Trek Novels because it gives us the best character foundations while providing strategic insight to the philosophies of Starfleet Academy itself.
Prime Directive by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
The Prime Directive is the first and foremost rule, the guiding principle of Starfleet. It prohibits all Starfleet members from interfering with the natural development of any civilisation. The key determinant is whether the civilisation has passed a recognised milestone in technological, scientific, and cultural development. Prime Directive is the best Star Trek novel to challenge this principle and show some serious ethical analysis through the eyes of the original characters. The Reeves-Stevens team are considered the best at capturing the canonical characterisations of the Enterprise crew. From Kirk through to Nichols, each character is allowed to show their belief in the system and their need to question its validity. Prime Directive is one of my absolute favourites.
Spock’s World by Diane Duane
One of the most familiar, if not THE most familiar character is Spock. His mixed human-Vulcan heritage provided the bond between space-travelling humans and alien races across the Universe. The Vulcans themselves were always fascinating, in both history and characterisation. They are a race who have chosen logic and reasoning above all other experiences, detached from their emotions. In Spock’s World, Vulcan is planning to secede from the United Federation of Planets. Spock and the crew of the USS Enterprise have been called to Vulcan to help guide through this political and social mess. Woven within the chief storyline are chapters of Vulcan’s history, philosophy, and culture. This is a lovely display of the importance of cultural identity and heritage with the evolution of any society; a key concept of the Star Trek Universe.
Uhura’s Song by Janet Kagan
I always felt like Lt. Uhura was a minor character with the lesser role of Communications Officer. While her character grew over time, the role was never given its full due. For me, Uhura’s Song fills the gap and expands the roles of crew members. The key to this story is communication; between Uhura and her friends, and amongst the cat-like beings of Eeiauo who have preserved their cultural history in song. I always have a soft spot for anything to do with intangible culture property, but Uhura’s Song brings it out in a spectacular performance.
Pawns and Symbols by Majliss Larson
I’ll be honest with you: this is not the best Star Trek book; HOWEVER, it is one of the more memorable depictions of Klingons. The Klingons were the original foes to our earthly counterparts and a stark contrast to the Vulcans. In the earlier stories, it was easy to rely on the bloodthirsty honour system of the Klingons as a way of pushing the story through battle scenes. Larson digs deeper into the Klingon culture beyond war and battles. Here we meet scientists, doctors, and civilians. If you are exploring the established alien races within the Star Trek world, Pawns and Symbols is the starting point for the Klingons.
The Best Star Trek: Next Generation Books (ST:NG)
The Devil’s Heart by Carmen Carter
ST:NG is really the television series to thank for the Star Trek reboot. Sure, the movies were great, but it took Captain Picard and his crew to re-establish the Star Trek Universe, balancing the science fiction action with the sociological analysis it was renown for. There are plenty of ST:NG novels where they capture the excitement of the episodes and the fun of the characters. However, my list today is more about the soul of Star Trek, the yearning to explore space and embrace the diversity out there. Carter captures this essence, balancing the scientific discovery with respect for cultural heritage. Captain Jean-Luc Picard truly is the best Star Trek captain to carry this story.
The Best Star Trek: Voyager Books (ST:V)
Homecoming by Christie Golden
Homecoming is the ultimate book for any Voyager fans left wanting at the end of the series. However, don’t go thinking this is simply a ‘closure book’. Golden has taken some of the core elements of Voyager and brought them back to life in the ongoing story of the Federation. The goal of the Starfleet is to travel and explore further afield, and Homecoming addresses all the issues they bring back with them.
The Best Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Books (ST: DS9)
The Never-Ending Sacrifice by Una McCormack
McCormack has a few Star Trek novels spread across all time periods but I love her best when she is delving into the dark political subterfuge seeded in ST: DS9. I will warn you: The Never-Ending Sacrifice is not a ‘light-touch’. It focuses on the fall of the Cardassians, bringing heart and soul to a historical epic, tying in with the infamous Dominion War. You do not have to be a Star Trek fan to love this book. It’s more like a passionate invite to jump into the television series after you read this.
NB: If you are just starting your Star Trek journey with the new live-action series Picard, you should also check out McCormack’s The Last Best Hope, set as a prequel for the series. I haven’t read it yet but I have heard good things about it.
Night of the Wolves (Star Trek: Terok Nor #2) by S.D. Perry and Britta Dennison
This is the second book of the Terok Nor trilogy; Perry and Dennison wrote books two and three after James Swallow opened the series with Day of the Vipers. The trilogy is set before ST: DS9, before the Dominion War, during the Occupation of Bajor. It is not a spoiler when I say, “This does not end well”. Rather, it gives the necessary backstory to what was the key political issue leading into DS9. Perry and Dennison have stayed true to the characters and the experiences that shaped them. There are plenty of tie-ins, and they really help to connect with the storyline. Yes, it will help reading Swallow’s book first but I warn you: Swallow’s book is REALLY plot-heavy reading and you will want to pick up Night of the Wolves almost immediately afterwards, just to help with processing the storyline.
The Best Star Trek: Enterprise Books (ST:E)
Surak’s Soul by J.M. Dillard
Enterprise, as a series, had the unfortunate burden of all prequel series – it was limited to what came before it. It is a bit harder to find high-quality books which still cover the core elements of the Star Trek Universe as a whole. The best I can find is Surak’s Soul by J.M. Dillard. Giving the limelight to Enterprise’s only Vulcan character allows some discussion on the role Vulcans played in Earth’s earlier space adventures. It also gives us insight into how other alien species would manage to live with Earth-humans. In light of T’Pol’s existential crisis, I would say not well. I’m not totally surprised but it makes for a good story.
The Best Star Trek: Discovery Books (ST:D)
The Way to the Stars by Una McCormack
ST:D is fairly new in the Star Trek Universe, so the selection of novels available is still in its early days. It seems fitting to then recommend what is essentially a coming-of-age story for one of the awkward yet ambitious characters in the show: Sylvia Tilly. And to be fair, Tilly is probably one of the more relatable characters too. By the time we reach Discovery in the television-timeline, most of the core concepts have been played out. If you are looking for novels after watching Discovery, then Tilly’s story is a great starting point. McCormack builds a family history that blends Tilly’s formative years with the established culture of “Federation Families” – those who have name, status, and presence within the system already.
The Best Star Trek Anthologies, Cross-overs, and Novelisation
Federation by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Many fans are attracted to the Star Trek novels in hope of a crossover. When the move Generations was released, fans rejoiced at the idea of Captains Kirk and Picard mixing it up. While the movie was…okay…this is definitely a moment where the book is better. Federation is everything Generations should have been. The Reeves-Stevens team remain true to the established characters and successfully balance the stories across both past and future. For fans of the Original Series looking to jump over to Next Generation, or vice versa, this one bridges the gap.
Duty, Honor, Redemption by Vonda McIntyre
For fans of the movies who have never watched the television series (or read the books), you can always start with novelisations of the movies. Hardcore fans will always tell you the best films are Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. McIntyre brings all three movies into one hardy book, expanding on the movies and incorporating additional details to fill out the stories
The Lives of Dax (Anthology) Edited by Marco Palmieri
This anthology includes stories by stories by Steven Barnes, Michael Jan Friedman, L.A. Graf, Jeffrey Lang, and several others. That’s a big team of writers, but then, Dax is a big character – figuratively speaking. Dax is a worm-like symbiote who is joined body and soul with a diverse range of humanoid hosts. This collection of short stories is not just a backstory to one of my favourite Star Trek characters; it is also an example of the diversity of all characters within the Star Trek universe. Not only is each host different but the combination of host and symbiote creates differences too. This is simply a reflection of our own interactions creating unique relationships and experiences as a result of the combination we make with other people.
And on that note, I will end my very long list of the best Star Trek books. Somewhere in this list is your ticket to an amazing literary universe filled with utopian ideals and exploration. But who says you can only choose one?
Be bold! Read them all!