I really loved Christopher L. Bennett’s first Department of Temporal Investigations novel (click here for my review) that fleshed out the Federation’s timeline-policing agency, first seen in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tibbble-ations,” so I was excited to see the release of a follow-up novel: Forgotten History.
This new book is a sequel, but really it’s a prequel, as the novel focuses on the origins of the DTI. I love Mr. Bennett’s enthusiasm for asking the logical follow-up questions to aspects of the Star Trek shows. In this case, Mr. Bennett was clearly intrigued by the idea of how an agency like the DTI (which was used for mostly comic effect in “Trials and Tribble-ations”) might have come to be, and this wildly entertaining new novel is his attempt to answer that question.
One of the DTI agents comments, early in the book, that the beginning of most time-travel stories somehow always seems to wind up back with James T. Kirk. The origin of the DTI is no exception. In the early part of the novel, probably my favorite part of the book, Mr. Bennett retells aspects of various Original Series episodes that involved time travel. In the book, we see how Kirk’s early misadventures through time planted the seed for the necessity for a time-policing agency. But more interestingly than that, I loved how, in re-telling the stories from those Classic Trek episodes, Mr. Bennett found a way to explain away the ridiculous fake-science and inconsistencies of every single one of those early time-travel episodes.
It’s an extraordinarily fascinating and entertaining feat, and I really delighted in reading Mr. Bennett’s explanation for why, for instance, Spock might have lost his emotional control when traveling back in time through the Atavachron in the episode “All Our Yesterdays.” (The explanation given in the episode, that Spock had traveled back to before the time when Vulcans had mastered their emotions, hence he could no longer control his emotions, was totally ridiculous.) Or, for another example, Mr. Bennett’s explaining of the opening of the episode (“Tomorrow is Yesterday”) which begins with the Enterprise having (seemingly with no effort) traveled back in time to the 1960′s to observe a pivotal moment of Earth’s history. I also loved his willingness to address the totally-unexplained appearance of a duplicate Earth in “Miri” (a plot point that I still find unbelievable that it wasn’t really explained or much-discussed in that episode) or the Earth-like planet seen in “The Omega Glory” (in which the United States of America and the people’s Republic of China apparently formed just like they did on our planet, only thousands of years in the past)…
Forgotten History, like much of Mr. Bennett’s writing, is jam-packed with references to the many different aspects of the Star Trek expanded universe, canonical and non-canonical. Mr. Bennett is constantly dropping names of characters and places from across the various Trek TV series, the novels, the comics, and various other sources. (Plot points and characters from Star Trek: The Animated Series play a particularly major role in this book.) I enjoyed the over-all story being told, but for me a huge part of my enjoyment of this book was the constant game of trying to keep up with all of Mr. Bennett’s references, and seeing if I could figure them all out.
Not only is it fun to try to identify all of Mr. Bennett’s references, but as a Trek fan I delighted at his efforts to weave together various aspects of the Star Trek universe and continuity into a sort of uber-continuity, in which all of the TV shows along with the novels, comics, and more, are all part of one unified continuity. In this expanded continuity, all of those many adventures all took place, and with a little imagination and creativity can all be considered part of the “real” adventures of Kirk and co.
Mr. Bennett cleverly weaves these stories together into a timeline of Star Trek history that, for me at least, totally works. Thus he can find a way to tell the story of the end of the five year mission that respects and playfully integrates (at least in my mind) the various other end-of-the-five-year-mission stories that have been told before (in books, comics, etc.). Thus he can put together a time-line of the Enterprise’s adventures between the end of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that can incorporate the idea of a second-five-year mission postulated by previous authors and explored by Mr. Bennett himself in his post-TMP novel Ex Machina. Thus we can reference Kirk’s relationship with Lori Ciana as seen in The Lost Years series of novels from the ’80s, and we can see a story told during Mr. Spock’s year-long absence from the Enterprise after TMP during which he was raising Saavik, and we can see a reference to the Enterprise’s second encounter with Gary Seven from Greg Cox’s novel Assignment: Eternity, and — maybe my favorite reference in the whole book — we see a nod to Scotty’s love Glynnis, from Peter David’s magnificent story from DC Comic’s Star Trek Annual #3 from back in 1988 (one of my favorite Star Trek stories ever) .
There are so many other fun touches thrown into the book. I loved the way Mr. Bennett’s depiction of Spock’s experiences during the Enterprise’s travel back through time in the episode “Assignment: Earth” cleverly mimics the time-travel scene in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, in which the crew experience weird hallucinations of events that will happen to them later in the film. I loved seeing Vincent DeSalle, a recurring character from the early days of The Original Series as well as the first several episodes of the fan-made series Star Trek: New Voyages. I loved the way Jan Grey and other minor characters from the great Animated Series episode “Yesteryear” have been fleshed out into important characters who played a critical role in the founding of the DTI.
The only off-note, for me, in the novel, was that I didn’t have a full understanding of another reference from The Animated Series that wound up playing a huge role in the novel’s second half: the mysterious and ancient alien race known as the Vedala and their time-and-space-jumping planetoid. This is the other side of the coin of the fun of all these references — when you don’t quite understand one that winds up playing a major role in the story (as was the case with me in this case — I had to search on-line to discover that these aliens appeared in the TAS episode “The Jihad”) you can feel like you’re coming in late to the party. As I read the second half of the book, I did feel a little bit like I was missing some key information. Mr. Bennett provides enough exposition to explain the aliens and to give the reader all the background information that one needs, but I think that section of the book would have worked a lot better for me had I been more familiar with the original episode.
Forgotten History is a great follow-up to Mr. Bennett’s first DTI novel. It’s an entertaining story that digs deeply into the rich tapestry of Trek history. I truly hope that we’ll see more DTI novels in the future…!
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle
Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations – Watching the Clock
Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions – Star Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light