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‘Star Trek: New Earth – Wagon Train to the Stars’ Retro Review: Space Cowboys Journey Into the Unknown

Retro-Review: Star Trek: New Earth – Wagon Train to the Stars Review: Space Cowboys Journey Into the Unknown
Credit: Simon & Schuster

Review: Star Trek: New Earth – Wagon Train to the Stars

If your ears perk up at the pairing of Star Trek and the phrase “wagon train to the stars,” there’s a good reason: Gene Roddenberry once described his idea for Star Trek in those exact words. Surprisingly, it took until the turn of the millennium for a Star Trek narrative to use this exact adventurous ethos. As we can assume after reading this 24-year-old book, readers in 2000 would have quite enjoyed the adventurous situation Captain James Kirk and his veteran crew find themselves in.

Let’s talk about why.

Instead of wagons journeying into the Wild West with hardy families hoping to make a better life in the wilderness, Wagon Train to the Stars witnesses a massive collection of colonists trying their hand at life outside Earth, the Solar System, or even the Federation. Sixty-thousand souls pack themselves into the Belle Terre Colonial Expedition, destining themselves to cross the vast emptiness of space to secure a hold on what’s essentially another beautiful Earth – a Belle Terre.

Far from the Federation, a newly discovered M-class world has been eyed as a potential home by a group of hardy and determined colonists. Starfleet can spare only one starship to escort the would-be settlers on their perilous voyage, and that ship is none other than the legendary Starship Enterprise, commanded by the most well-known captain in the quadrant. Now Kirk finds himself responsible for the lives of 30,000 men, women, and children—a task that grows all the more difficult when the expedition is caught in the middle of an ancient feud between two dangerous alien races.

Official book summary.

Overseeing this expedition is James Kirk, fresh off saving Earth from V’Ger. The legendary admiral’s reputation on this expedition follows him – and often burdens him. The man, who is quickly saying goodbye to his 30s, is eager to get back out and captain again, rather than assume admiral duties far from the front. The Belle Terre expedition is what Kirk needs to revitalize himself; it’s a chance to return to the roots of his career – exploring the galaxy and living on the edge.

Wagon Train to the Stars is just the first of six books in the New Earth series, and the first novel explores the expedition’s path across space, which is far from a calm crossing. Embedded in this expedition is a man, Billy Maidenshore, who holds a grudge against Kirk thanks to a past conflict the two men had, and he makes the expedition close to a living hell for the admiral – and an actual living hell for some innocent colonials.  Safe to say, Billy’s immoral actions go far beyond burdening the admiral as Kirk tries to keep the expedition together despite challenge after challenge.

Author Diane Carey, whose other Star Trek publications include, among other things, books two and four of The Dominion War series, the next book in the New Earth series, and quite a few episode novelizations, largely focuses on the dynamics between Kirk and his fellow Starfleeters and those within the expedition. Kirk’s dealings with the Belle Terre group highlight his reputation as a sharp thinker, smart strategist, somewhat irritating to those not in the command chair, and someone ultimately considered worth following through any ordeal. Carey clearly wanted the reader to walk away with the impression Kirk is a near-mythical figure in this universe for good reason. Even Kirk’s detractors end up following him, and that ultimately saves their skin.

Wagon Train to the Stars takes place after The Motion Picture and before The Wrath of Khan. Kirk and crew have just received the “new” red Starfleet uniforms, like those pictured here in this promotional shot for The Wrath of Khan. Credit: CBS.

The expedition’s destination is Belle Terre, yes, but also, unbeknownst to them, two alien factions: the Blood and the Kauld, neighbors that have been constantly at war with each other. Carey diverts from the expedition often to check on how the leaders of Blood and Kauld, Shucorion, and Vellyngaith, respectively, are preparing for the Federation’s arrival in their contested region of space. This preparation involves a tense faux-peace and much conniving, as there’s a factor complicating the Federation’s plan to settle Belle Terre: one of the planet’s moons is unusual, its mass changes in a way no natural body should. Wagon Train to the Stars’ lack of explanation for why the moon is doing this is as much a reason to continue reading the series as anything else.

We’d like to praise Carey for the climax of this book, a set-piece battle between Kauld and the expedition. If you’re planning on reading Wagon Train to the Stars, stop right here if you don’t want to be spoiled. How Kirk ends up defeating the overwhelming Kauld force with a bunch of colony ships and other, non-warship vessels is brilliant, and gives much credibility to the decision to base this book on the wagon trains of old. Reading how the expedition creates its version of a wagon circle to protect each other against the relentless Kauld, who might as well be coyotes attacking from the woods, brings together the story in a way that is rewarding and thrilling.

The book appears to explore several intertwined themes, weaving together elements of exploration, political intrigue, and the complexities of leadership and morality in challenging circumstances. At its core, the narrative of the Belle Terre expedition is a tale of exploration and colonization, where humanity faces not only the unknowns of deep space but also the ethical dilemmas and survival challenges that arise in such ventures.

We appreciated Carey’s exploration of leadership under pressure. Captain Kirk embodies this theme as he navigates the responsibilities of command amidst external threats and internal dissent. His decisions are not only tactical but moral. He grapples with issues like sabotage, disease outbreaks, and the presence of suspect characters like Billy Maidenshore. The pressure to succeed in leading the colony ships to Belle Terre despite numerous setbacks tests Kirk’s resolve and strategic acumen.

Kirk isn’t made of stone in this narrative. He harbors doubts about his command abilities, his success in his career if he can totally attribute that to himself, and what will happen if the Belle Terre Expedition isn’t successful. Kirk is only human, which is a neat contrast against the reputation that has followed him in this wagon train to the stars.

Another prominent theme in this book revolves around the ethical implications of colonization and the interactions between different species and factions in the galaxy. The presence of privateers like Michael Kilvennan and the antagonistic Kauld forces highlight the complex web of alliances, betrayals, and negotiations that shape the fate of the expedition. Questions of trust, cooperation, and the balance of power emerge as Kirk and his crew navigate these diplomatic and military challenges.

Furthermore, the book delves into the human condition in extreme environments – certainly a prominent issue whether you are exploring the Wild West or space. Problems such as disease outbreaks, supply shortages, and the psychological toll on the colonists underscore the vulnerability of human endeavors in the vastness of space. The narrative explores how individuals and societies react under pressure, revealing both the resilience and fragility of human nature.

Through its exploration of leadership, ethics, diplomacy, and survival, Diane Carey paints a vivid picture of a future where humanity’s quest for new frontiers is fraught with peril and possibility, reflecting on timeless themes of exploration and the complexities of human nature in the face of the unknown. We give this book a thumbs up, even if you don’t want to dedicate yourself to all six books in the series.

You can buy Star Trek: New Earth – Wagon Train to the Stars on Amazon.

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Written By

Kyle Hadyniak has been a lifelong Star Trek fan, and isn't ashamed to admit that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek: Nemesis are his favorite Star Trek movies. You can follow Kyle on Twitter @khady93.

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