Now that we've all seen the teaser trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness, we've got a bad case of Star Trek fever. Luckily, there are tons of Star Trek novels that have been published since the Original Series went off the air — and many of them are shockingly good. Thanks to editors like David G. Hartwell and John Ordover, the Star Trek novels have regularly attracted some of the best authors out there.
Here are a dozen Star Trek novels that even non-diehard Trek fans will appreciate.
For those of you who look down on media tie-in novels — you should know that these tie-in novels have a long and sometimes illustrious history. Here's our article about the large number of great science fiction and fantasy authors who've chosen to write tie-in novels over the years.
In any case, here are some truly rewarding Star Trek novels — including quite a few written by Hugo or Nebula winners.
The Hugo Award-winning author wrote the books that adapted every single original Star Trek episode into short stories, and then went on to write the first Star Trek novel for adults, in 1970. And Blish dives right into one of the most baffling aspects of Star Trek continuity: the Organians, that race of godlike beings who forced the Federation to make peace with the Klingons and then were never seen again. When the Klingons find a way to start making war once again, Spock has to transport himself to the Organian planet using a special tachyon beam — but the result is two Spocks, one of whom has to die. But which one? I read this as a kid and was very impressed by the Spock drama, but apparently it holds up pretty well today.
The Forever War author wrote two Star Trek novels in the late 1970s, and by all accounts this is the better of the two. (Haldeman has written that he wasn't really into doing the second one, World Without End, but it was contractually obligated.) Planet of Judgment has a lot of the great Star Trek staples, including super-powerful aliens putting the Enterprise crew on trial, and some big philosophical questions. Plus lots of huge space-opera action, including an impossible planet orbiting a stable black hole. And this is one of the most adult of the Star Trek novels, with the redshirts getting their faces ripped off and the Enterprise crew actually talking about sex.
And here's yet another award-winning author who wrote Star Trek novels — we'll be featuring McIntyre again on this list. The Entropy Effect was the first original novel published by Pocket Books, and here's McIntyre's account of how that happened. And for her first original Trek novel, McIntyre pulls out all the stops, with a twisty story of time travel in which it actually causes physical damage to the fabric of the universe. A great example of using a Star Trek novel to explore some scientific ideas.
The first of two must-read Star Trek novels by Ford, The Final Reflection is the first novel to delve into Klingon culture and show the Klingons as having honor and valid ideas of their own. Ford invents a Klingon version of chess, called klin zha, and uses it to explore the Klingon view of the universe and their place in it. Pretty much all of the later development of Klingons in Star Trek builds on Ford's work here, and it's also a great piece of world-building and a tutorial in how to make an alien race feel alive and real. For the rest of his life, Ford was feted by Klingons at conventions as their great hero.
What Ford did for the Klingons, Duane did for the Romulans — this is the first book in her "Rihannsu" series, which fleshes out Romulan culture and makes them not just a weird offshoot of the Vulcans with a somewhat random "Ancient Rome" motif glued on. All of Duane's Rihannsu novels are worth reading, even if you're not a Trek maniac, because they create a believable alien culture and put it alongside the Federation. And unlike the Klingons, the Romulans have never gotten this much depth and thought put into them on screen, to this day.
Having given the Klingons a new depth and integrity, Ford chose to follow that up with... a musical comedy book. The Enterprise travels to a Dilithium-rich planet, where the Federation is competing with the Klingons for the mining rights. And weirdly enough, everybody on the planet communicates by bursting into song. And comedy is king. This book features cameo appearances by Pamela Dean, Neil Gaiman, Diane Duane and other authors.
Before J.J. Abrams gave us a new version of Captain Kirk's origins, McIntyre wrote this masterful novel about a young Captain Kirk having to come to grips with his command — including the uptight Spock, who considers his new captain to be a loose cannon. For fans of later Star Treks who've never quite understood why the Kirk/Spock/McCoy relationship is so important to the series, McIntyre does a great job of establishing and developing that relationship, and showing just why that particular trio are so epic. There's also a winged horse in the Enterprise cargo bay, a vaudeville troupe on board, and a brand new race of... winged monkeys.
The Reeves-Stevenses have had a long and varied career with Star Trek, including a stint working on Enterprise and a long stretch ghost-writing William Shatner's bizarre "Shatner-verse" novels. But their first Star Trek book is probably the best thing they've ever done — it's a genuinely epic look at the Prime Directive and what happens when Captain Kirk appears to have broken it once too often, causing a huge disaster in which the Enterprise is all but destroyed. Kirk is shamed and drummed out of Starfleet in disgrace, and the rest of the Enterprise bridge crew has to scatter and go into hiding, enacting an elaborate plan to bring Kirk back. Dr. McCoy has to become a fictitious space pirate, and Sulu and Chekov become Orion smugglers. It's a completely over-the-top adventure novel, but it also manages to sell you on the idea that Kirk's goose might really be cooked this time. Great fun.
For a long time, Peter David was the undisputed master of Star Trek novels — his New Frontier books are great swashbuckling fun, and quite addictive, and he also wrote some entertaining books about Q and the Borg. But his most lasting achievement as a Star Trek author is probably Imzadi, in which he manages to take the Troi-Riker relationship and infuse it with romance, joy and danger. As a time-travel romance, Imzadi is remarkably strong and intense — it starts out in the future, when Admiral Riker is mourning the death 30 years ago of his beloved Deanna Troi. But when Riker discovers evidence that Troi's death was actually the result of time-travel interference, he goes back in time to save her. Leaving the future Data no choice but to go back in time to try and stop Riker.
The other must-read Peter David Star Trek novel, this one fleshes out the oft-overlooked character of Hikaru Sulu (who only got his first name, thanks to Vonda McIntyre's Entropy Effect.) Captain Sulu's daughter is apparently killed in mysterious circumstances, and he risks everything to go find out what happened to her. For those of us who still feel sad that we never got a Captain Sulu TV series or spin-off movie, this is the next best thing — and for anybody who wants to read a rip-roaring space opera with heart, this is a great read.
There have been a lot of great Star Trek novels in recent years, many of them written by Cox and David Mack. (See above for the cover of Mack's Vanguard, which commenter SandroinSeattle recommends.) This one stands out, though, because it fleshes out a key period in Star Trek history — the Eugenics Wars that are alluded to in the episode "Space Seed." Now at last, we learn just how Khan and his fellow augments tried to take over. Cox does a fantastic job of fleshing out the already rich character of Khan Noonien Singh — but this is also great as a near-future story of genetic engineering gone wrong, in its own right.
And finally, there's the one must-read Deep Space Nine novel. Andrew Robinson's Garak was one of the most fascinating characters Star Trek has ever given us — a former spy who claims to be just a simple tailor, Garak was always willing to do what needed to be done. And to push characters like Bashir and Sisko over the edge into his own moral gray area. Robinson returns to the character he played, and fleshes out a lot of his backstory as well as filling in a lot of what happened to Garak after he left Deep Space Nine. Anybody who was ever curious about the darker, more textured universe DS9 was creating will find a lot of insights here.
So what are your choices for the most essential Star Trek novels? List them below!