14 January 2019

Review: Star Trek: Discovery: The Way to the Stars by Una McCormack

Trade paperback, 276 pages
Published 2019

Acquired and read January 2019
Star Trek: Discovery: The Way to the Stars
by Una McCormack

The Way to the Stars is the backstory novel for Sylvia Tilly, chronicling Tilly's life at age 16. This means it kind of reads like a young adult novel, but that's no complaint. It might be more accurate, though, to say that this is a bildungsroman, or at least part of one; this is how Sylvia Tilly struggles to fit herself into society but then discovers the place where she belongs. Tilly is harangued by her mother, goes to space boarding school, tries to succeed in academics and extracurriculars, struggles to make friends, and eventually makes a momentous decision. That's the point where the book-- which had always been good-- becomes great. The Way to the Stars takes Tilly further than she's ever gone before, as she meets a variety of people who accept her and shape her and help her to grow. It's really heart-warming without being saccharine, optimistic without being blinkered. It's just a really good book about growing up and finding your place.

I enjoyed every page of it, zipping through it in just over a day. There's a lot of nice side characters, like Tilly's grandmother and her grandmother's husband, plus a crotchety space mechanic, even just random bureaucrats. I particularly enjoyed the USS Dorothy Garrod and its captain. It's cool to see a dedicated science vessel in Star Trek in something other the role of victim. (Do we think it's Oberth-class? I think it would fit what we're told. One thing I didn't buy was that the engineers were the only non-scientists aboard; what about helm and security?)

Una McCormack totally gets Tilly (who is a favorite in our household), the awkward overachiever who wants to be a space captain, and the character at her best is on display here. McCormack has always been one of my favorite Star Trek writers because she understands character, and how to represent it on the page. It's not just capturing the dialogue of the actors, but embodying a way of thinking in the action of the story. Tilly makes some wrongheaded choices here, but the reader understands exactly why she does it even as they know she shouldn't be.

It's also successful as a prequel. I mean, there are obvious ways for it to be so: Tilly mentions her mother on screen in one Discovery episode, and she appears briefly in Short Treks, and Tilly's mother is a good extrapolation of those bits. But there's a deeper, better way for a prequel to work, which is when you're watching the original again, you experience resonances in things that worked fine on their own the first time around. Like, Tilly's father tells her there's something of her mother Siobhan in her, in the way Siobhan can command a room. Tilly doesn't believe him. But she must have realized he was right when she had to pretend to be her mirror counterpart. After reading The Way to the Stars, it's easy to imagine that she's drawing on her mother in those scenes, even if she herself doesn't realize. It's moments like that that make a good prequel into a great one, and this is the most enjoyable Discovery novel thus far.

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