In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.
Part of this story takes place 5 billion years ago.
The Star to Every Wandering is an unusual Star Trek novel. Author David R. George III is undoubtedly aware of this fact, for numerous reasons. His editor Marco Palmieri at Pocket Books, who produce the tie-in novels, encouraged George for a start to not worry about canon and continuity, two of the most precious and sacred elements of Star Trek. This gave George the license he needed to go off-piste with his trilogy of Original Series novels, under the banner ‘Crucible’, timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the franchise in 2006.
The Crucible trilogy deals with the three most archetypal characters in Star Trek history: Captain Kirk, Commander Spock and Doctor McCoy. They all spiral around one of the most celebrated and classic episodes in Trek history, ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, a time-travel story penned by science-fiction legend Harlan Ellison which sees Kirk & Spock use a mysterious, ancient time-portal called the Guardian of Forever to rescue a crazed McCoy from the year 1930, where he changes the course of history on Earth to such a degree that the Nazis win WW2 and the United Federation of Planets, nay the entire future of Star Trek, ceases to exist. Consequently, by making the Crucible books about one of Trek’s strangest alien creations, George has enormous scope to take his three protagonists anywhere and any ‘when’ in Star Trek history.The Star to Every Wandering concludes the loose-trilogy by focusing on the most famous and legendary Captain in Trek history, perhaps even pop-culture history – James T. Kirk. George’s approach with the Crucible books, as he describes in the footnotes to the last book, was to provide an extremely personal examination of each of these three men, attempting to excavate character elements heretofore undiscovered by the many writers who have tackled these characters over the many TV series and movies since the 1960’s. Kirk’s story, however, is built on a key emotional principle which simply doesn’t ring true from the moment George presents it to us: that Captain Kirk, for all the women and relationships he had, considered Edith Keeler the love of his life.
Edith Keeler, of course, was the central McGuffin of ‘City on the Edge of Forever’. A peace activist in 30’s America, Edith dies in a car accident tragically according to the flow of history, but when Bones arrives through the Guardian’s time portal, he inadvertently saves Edith and her activism leads to a massive peace initiative in the US, causing them never to enter WW2 and for the Nazis to win the war. Edith’s ahead of her age idealism ends up preventing the very future she aspires to, the future Gene Roddenberry presented with his series. Kirk realises this only once he has entered into a romance with Edith while trying to find & save McCoy, and makes the most heartbreaking decision: he lets Edith be killed to ensure history flows as intended, despite the fact he loved her.
Now, let’s just be clear: Kirk almost certainly *did* fall in love with Edith in that episode. That isn’t in dispute. Let us remember, however, that Kirk made attachments to women he met every other week in The Original Series. He later went on and fathered a child with Carol Marcus, a scientist he would fail to commit to. The Wrath of Khan suggests Carol was very much ‘the one that got away’, and indeed Star Trek Into Darkness teed up the potential of a romance between Kirk & Carol in that alternate timeline. Generations, too, establishes an unseen character named Antonia who Kirk met after retiring from Starfleet following The Original Series, offering her up as another lost love who Kirk regrets making a life with.
Therefore, suggesting Edith Keeler—a woman who lived and died 300 years before Kirk was even born, and who he spent a small fraction of time with while on a mission in the past—was his one true love is, unfortunately, a crucial reach by George which simply does not ring true. It’s not exactly a canonical contradiction, rather an emotional character contradiction. The irony is that George spends more time in The Star to Every Wandering establishing the relationship between Kirk and Antonia (who here gets the surname Salvatori) than he does reminding us of Kirk’s bond with Edith. You end up believing Kirk regretted going back to Starfleet just before the events of The Motion Picture more than he did not saving Edith’s life, knowing the entire future he came from would cease to exist.
The book, consequently, never quite recovers from this difficult and unlikely character beat from Kirk. George has a good stab, however, of digging into the psychology of a man who always struggled to define himself when not “out there saving the galaxy”, as he memorably quips in Generations. Kirk never really knew who he was when he wasn’t the Captain of a starship. Picard you sense would grow into an elder statesman, Sisko always had a life and family outside of the uniform, and you sensed no such issues from Janeway once she became an Admiral (though admittedly we barely saw her in that role on screen). Kirk spent his retirement travelling Earth, throwing himself into dangerous and reckless extreme sports, just presumably to capture the same thrill as exploring new worlds gave him.
What you do feel from The Star for Every Wandering is that Kirk exudes a profound sense of loneliness behind the charm and swagger, more so than you’ve seen from any other Star Trek protagonist. George does feature moments from The Original Series but primarily his story focuses on the elder Kirk, the man who after the events of The Undiscovered Country finds himself parted from his beloved crew and best friends, lacking any real family to speak of having lost his parents, his brother and indeed his son before their time, who is still looking to find and define himself. That definition, George believes, seems to come from women, specifically the women either fate or his own bad choices separated him from. You sense, however, his one true love is the Enterprise, and that’s an old girl he will never be able to get back.
The Star to Every Wandering focuses quite significantly on Generations, even to the point George rewrites scenes from that movie in prose (including the final battle on Veridian III, and Kirk’s first encounter with Jean-Luc Picard). Generations, famously, did not go down well with much of the fandom for how it utilises William Shatner’s Kirk, in what would be to date his last on-screen appearance as the character. Kirk’s death, though rescued from the original plan of being shot in the back by Tolian Soran, felt rushed and empty. If anything, the tragic, sudden sacrifice he provides in the prologue to save the new Enterprise-B, which throws him into the mystical Nexus, was a stronger way for Kirk to go out than getting crushed under a collapsing bridge.
George doesn’t quite re-write Kirk’s lacklustre fate but he does play with it here, allowing Kirk one last unusual adventure before he meets his fate (though he also gets away with letting Kirk escape it, confusingly, and mainly because Palmieri didn’t want a ‘downer’ ending to the trilogy), in which the concept of the Nexus is played with to create a brand-new existential threat to the universe. Kirk himself becomes, as the Guardian of Forever describes itself, his own “beginning” and “ending”, serving as a major temporal convergence threatening to rip space/time in two unless Kirk uses the Nexus to ensure events play out at the end of Generations as they should.
Honestly, it’s a rather confusing and twisty time-travel plot (even for time-travel plots) which seems primarily designed to allow George to bring certain characters into the mix, make a ton of references to The Original Series and movies (George challenged himself to reference every episode and movie in the Crucible trilogy), and make use of the Nexus as a gambit which can take Kirk to any point in time that services the plot. It also helps shore up George’s admission that the Crucible trilogy takes place outside of any pre-existing main or tie-in continuity, which does to some extent make it feel arbitrary. It explores Kirk, it taps into many areas of his life and past adventures people loved, but does it truly mean anything to the character’s journey?
The Nexus has always been a tricky concept from a narrative perspective, precisely because of this. As proven by Guinan (who pops up here), part of you always remains in the Nexus even if you leave it, so there are still versions of Picard & Kirk presumably existing in that energy barrier, despite the fact they ostensibly left it to arrive on Veridian III. Though meant to be a mystical representation of a kind of ‘Heaven’ in the Star Trek universe (just without the overt religious connotations), the Nexus nonetheless doesn’t prescribe to enough rules to ground you in any way in the narrative taking place. The best way to approach The Star to Every Wandering is as a romantic fable, divorced from the continuity of Star Trek, or indeed Kirk’s life as a whole.
Indeed, going a step further, perhaps it could be regarded more as Kirk’s final fugue. George plays with the meaning of his enigmatic last words “oh my…”, which always suggested Kirk was glimpsing something beyond life, for better or worse. Perhaps this story is best approached as a dying last adventure for the Captain, in which he imagines he can truly make a final difference to the galaxy (which he believed in Generations was a chance he had lost), and ultimately face an afterlife where he might meet the woman he loved more than anything, or anyone, else. George’s final, ancient appearance of the Guardian of Forever does cloud this theory, but as a fable there don’t necessarily need to be any hard and fast rules to Kirk’s story here.
The Star to Every Wandering is a line from Shakespeare, part of a sonnet describing ‘lost love’. Whatever you prescribe to Kirk as his lost love, whether it’s Edith or Antonia or Carol or even the Enterprise (even Spock, given their platonic bond), it serves as a fitting, if disjointed and sometimes messy, examination of Kirk’s hopes, dreams and missed opportunities. Now if only it could have erased the end of Generations…