Star Trek: Shell Game (1993) – Melissa Crandall

It took me a little longer to get into this one than I would have liked, but once I was into it, I really enjoyed this, the next novel in the Pocket Books series of Star Trek novels.

Set after the events of The Motion Picture, but far enough along in the timeline to have the new burgundy uniforms featured in The Wrath of Khan, the story is smart, engaging, pure Trek, and makes little nods to what is to come in the future.

The Enterprise comes across a drifting Romulan space station, that has passed into Federation space and begins an investigation. Spock, McCoy, Chekov and a security team (you know what that means right?) beam over to the station to discover it completely without power, and not a single living Romulan aboard. They seem to have died from hypothermia, despite the station’s ambient temperature.

Back on the Enterprise, strange incidents seem to be occurring, little power drains, that slowly add up and put the entire crew in jeopardy. Kirk, worrying about his friends aboard the station, and trying to understand what is going on aboard his ship feels a little out of his depth. He wants to be over there exploring, but new suggestions from Starfleet make it clear that captains should not lead away missions.

The story riffs on a haunted house, deserted ship themes, blatantly illustrated at the beginning of the novel with Scotty sharing a tale of ghost ships. It sets up a tone and a mood for the tale, while also reminding us in true Trek fashion, that we don’t have to fear the unknown.

The unknown is there to be explored and understood. That doesn’t make it spooky sometimes, and there’s some nice moments in the story, but the reveal as the story progresses is totally on par with a classic Trek episode.

I like the sense of exploration and discovery, counterbalanced with the frustration of failing equipment, and the threat of attack. It’s also cool to see Kirk forced to take a back seat to the main mission, leaving him aboard ship, and dealing with things from afar, letting Spock, McCoy and Chekov shine.

It’s a well-paced tale, and though there are a few dialogue lifts (specifically from The Wrath of Kan) that I can hear in my head, the story feels authentically like movie era Star Trek.

The Human Adventure continues as there are so many more Trek stories to come, and I eagerly look forward to each and every one of them.

Boldly go…


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