Well, since the weather was still extremely hot, I still only really felt like reading shorter and/or “easier” novels. So, after remembering that I still had quite a few unread “Star Trek” novels left over from when I used to read these books more often (in 2011-13), I decided to take a look at Christie Golden’s 1996 novel “Star Trek Voyager: The Murdered Sun”.
Whilst this novel tells an original and self-contained spin-off story that takes place sometime during the events of the first or second season of “Star Trek: Voyager“, it is probably worth watching at least a few episodes of the TV show beforehand if you want to get the most out of this novel.
So, let’s take a look at “Star Trek Voyager: The Murdered Sun”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel is set in the distant future – aboard the United Federation of Planets starship U.S.S Voyager, which has been stranded in a distant region of space called the Delta Quadrant for the past few months and is trying to find a way back to Earth.
Anyway, it is two in the morning and Captain Janeway can’t get to sleep. So, when she gets an urgent message from the ship’s bridge, it is a welcome distraction. Voyager’s sensors have just picked up both a mysterious wormhole and a warning beacon from a spacefaring empire called the Akerian Empire threatening anyone who strays into their space.
Initially, the wormhole seems to be a potential way back home. So, after some thought and discussion, Janeway crosses the boundary. However, it soon becomes obvious that there’s something off about the wormhole. It is leeching hydrogen from a nearby sun. This threatens to wipe out the inhabitants of a nearby planet called Veruna Four. But, before Voyager’s crew can study the phenomenon too much, they soon find themselves in the middle of a conflict between the Akerian Empire and Veruna Four…..
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is excellent 🙂 During some parts of the novel, it almost felt like I’d returned to the Sunday evenings of my childhood when I used to watch “Voyager” on TV every week. This is to say that this novel is basically like an extended episode of “Voyager”, but with a bit of extra depth/character/atmosphere and a larger special effects budget 🙂
It is also a perfectly balanced novel, expertly mixing science fiction, character-based drama, political drama, suspense and thrillingly spectacular action scenes. Although the novel’s story takes a little while to really get started and there are a few slow-paced “treknobabble“- filled scenes earlier in the story, it soon becomes a very gripping story 🙂
In addition to several well-placed epic space battles, this novel also remains compelling in lots of more subtle ways too. For starters, one of the story’s sub-plots involves the Voyager’s crew trying to uncover information about the history of both the Akerians and the inhabitants of Veruna Four. Likewise, there’s a lot of tension about how much assistance Voyager can offer Veruna Four whilst remaining within the limits of Federation law etc… Seriously, this is a brilliantly compelling tale.
Yes, some elements of the story are a little bit stylised and will seem familiar to fans of the show (eg: a corrupt militaristic empire vs.a peaceful spiritual civilisation etc..). Likewise, one of the novel’s dramatic plot twists is teased at least twice but, when all is eventually revealed, it will come as no surprise to people familiar with “Star Trek” storylines. Even so, this novel still remains surprisingly gripping, compelling and immersive.
The novel’s science fiction elements are as good as you would expect too and, in addition to the usual futuristic technology (eg: gravity weapons, starships etc..) and a few long-winded scientific explanations, there’s also other interesting stuff too such as a scene which shows how an alien society with a tradition of oral storytelling experiences less linguistic change over time when compared to languages that rely more on writing.
As you would expect from a “Star Trek” story, this novel also covers a variety of real-world topics – such as colonialism, the US’s treatment of Native Americans, militarism, the environment and prejudice. Although these themes could have been handled in a more subtle (and less lecturing/preachy) way, this never really distracts from the story too much and is in keeping with the TV show it is based on.
In terms of the characters, they are absolutely stellar. In addition to a reasonably well-written cast of background characters (from both Veruna Four and Akeras), the novel focuses heavily on Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay and Tom Paris too – with Chakotay and Paris each getting their own sub-plots too. Likewise, although the main characters are reasonably similar to the TV show, this novel adds a bit of extra emotional depth and personality to them too 🙂
In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is really good. In addition to being very readable, Golden’s narration strikes a really good balance between descriptions, dialogue, characterisation and action, which really helps the story to flow really well. If you’ve read other “Star Trek” novels from the 1990s before, then the narration is fairly comparable to these.
In terms of the length and pacing, this novel is excellent 🙂 At a reasonably efficient 277 pages in length, the novel manages to tell a full story (with a couple of sub-plots) without ever feeling bloated. Likewise, although the story gets off to a little bit of a slow start, the pacing is absolutely superb and most of the story is really gripping. The highlight has to be during one of the mid-late parts of the story, where Golden expertly juggles several story threads (with mini-cliffhangers at the end of each chapter) before suddenly speeding things up by focusing on just one dramatic story thread.
As for how this twenty-three year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Although there are possibly a couple of mildly dated descriptions, the story is just as gripping, atmospheric, nostalgic and dramatic as an episode of the TV show it is based on 🙂 Plus, since it is a book, the “special effects” and location design during many scenes look just as impressive today as they did back when “Voyager” was still a modern TV show.
All in all, if you’re a fan of “Star Trek: Voyager”, then you’ll enjoy this novel 🙂 It’s like a totally new episode of the show, but with deeper characterisation, a more complex plot, more atmosphere and better special effects 🙂 Yes, some elements of the story are a little bit clichéd/predictable and the story also takes a little while to become really gripping, but this was a really enjoyable novel to read 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.