I have quite a few Star Trek novels, mostly from the original series but I do have a few from The Next Generation while the only Deep Space Nine or Voyager novels I have were part of that crossover horror storyline “Invasion”. I didn’t get anything from the other series, including at least one series that was original to the Simon & Shuster novels. The last Star Trek novel I reviewed was a possible first mission for the USS Enterprise with Jim Kirk as captain, which I thought was okay but things were a bit off for me. I’ve also reviewed a comic trade collection that revisited the Mirror Universe. So now that we’re caught up with Star Trek book reports it’s time for the next one.

Published by Simon & Shuster’s Pocket Book division in September, 1991, Prime Directive is one of many novels written by the wife and husband team of Judith And Garfield Reeves-Stevens. Told in four parts over numerous chapters, you would think by the title, especially if you’re a Star Trek fan, that this is a story involving the titular Prime Directive, Starfleet General Order #1. A response to colonialism and not wanting to repeat old mistakes when there are so many new ones to make, the order sets ground rules for when to get involved in the affairs of non-Federation worlds, especially ones that haven’t had first contact yet. As a storytelling tool it’s often been abused by writers. I recommend checking out SF Debris’ examination of the Prime Directive in writing in the follow-up video to his review of the Enterprise episode “Dear Doctor” for more on that. This was a book I couldn’t remember if I had read, though as I went through it I realized I had read it a long time ago so it was a semi-new experience for me. I was curious how two well-praised writers of novels and television including and beyond this franchise handled the Prime Directive. The short answer is…they didn’t.

Here’s a full spoiler, chapter by chapter breakdown of the book if you so choose, but I’ll give you the spoiler-less summary. Part 1 starts with the usual cast having been expelled by Starfleet for some unknown incident. Kirk is disgraced and hated across the quadrant, Uhura is giving up her fight, and the others have gone on to other things, Scotty seeing to massive repairs of the Enterprise orbiting the near-dead world of Talin IV. Part two goes into the events that led to all this happening, while in part three the group come together to uncover the truth of what happened.

By itself the story is interesting as a character piece. We see in parts one and three how the crew handle their new status, Scotty being the only one of the main cast not in trouble but still having questions about the incident. Part two shows us the events that led to the tragedy, while part four is basically just an epilogue. It’s an interesting idea to come into it in medias res, then flashback to the events, then go back to see how it all plays out but personally, and I am speaking personally not critically, it kind of lost me. I felt lost for most of part one and I was more interested in finding out what happened so I couldn’t really enjoy the first part. Maybe it just goes on too long for me? Again, I’m not being critical of the choice, just that it didn’t work for me personally. Your experience may differ.

Without spoiling too much I wish there was more thought put into the mystery. If you go through the chapter by chapter review you’ll see that the actual culprit wasn’t given enough time to really be interesting despite some good ideas, while also not feeling quite right for a Star Trek story, at least from my perspective. The book is more interested in following the characters as they try to clear their names and I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just when you learn what actually happened it’s a bit underwhelming because there was more potential story there. It wouldn’t make for a full book but as part of this story, maybe with some less red herrings taking up page space, it could have worked.

This leads to my biggest problem with a book titled Prime Directive…the title doesn’t match the story. There is no discussion of the Prime Directive despite numerous opportunities and character with which to do a fresh take on the recurring debate in general, like a group of college students opposed to the Directive’s very existence and a rather important cultural expert who has a more personal issue with it. This could have been fascinating since we usually only see it from the perspective of the command crew of whatever ship the show is about. Instead it becomes little more than a plot device since the planet has not yet experienced first contact but is close to reaching that level. We only get one scene where Spock tries to work around the directive to obtain aid for the planet and the potential debate from the other characters I mentioned is given an opening but no follow-through.

Where the book shines in its worldbuilding. From the culture of the Talin societies to all but one aspect of the real culprits that I can’t really spoil here there is a lot of thought put into these worlds and even expanding on life within the United Federation Of Planets. We meet a number of very interesting characters in the First Contact Office investigators and in the people the crew meet trying to return to Talin IV. We learn about various aspects of Federation life, including some of the dirty jobs nobody thinks about. We see the characters deal with their new situation and their determination to defy Starfleet and learn what really happened, operating separately but still with the same goals. On this the story does a great job, but something like “Crisis On Talin IV” might have been better than a title that makes you think one of the biggest plot devices in the franchise is going to get some new examination.

I kind of want to read this book again in an order not intended, starting with part two, then going back to part one, and finally parts three and four to see if this does improve the reading experience. If not I may let this book go but right now I have plenty more books to go through so since I do want to read this again it will be in the library for a little longer. Despite some flaws both personal and critical it is overall a good story and maybe you’ll be able to handle the structure better than I did. However, I also see a few bits of wasted opportunity and that always makes me sad.