21 July 2021

Review: Star Trek: Discovery: Wonderlands by Una McCormack

Published: 2021
Acquired: May 2021
Read: July 2021

Star Trek: Discovery: Wonderlands
by Una McCormack

This Discovery novel isn't a prequel per se, but it does plug a gap; there's one year between the first and second episodes of Discovery season three, where Michael Burnham is stranded on her own in the 32nd century, after "the Burn" caused the collapse of the Federation and much other interstellar civilization. She must acclimate herself to a new time and place, one where the ideals she adhered to might not quite apply anymore because no one else believes in them but her.

It's by Una McCormack, so it's better than the third season of Discovery really deserves. I enjoyed S3 at first, actually, but like a lot of seasons of Discovery it lost me somewhere in the middle (in fact, I would say the much-derided S1 is the one I thought worked well the longest), with its overreliance on unearned sappy emotional moments. McCormack focuses on what worked well in the early parts of the season: the idea that the Discovery crew were special because they remembered the Federation at its height, and thus lived its ideals in a way no others did. She works some of Burnham's history in as effective grace notes in her characterization, and also lays some groundwork as to how the Federation collapsed so easily: even before the Burn, things were strained, thanks to the Temporal Wars and then an unprecedented, rapid expansion of the Federation. Pleasingly, we get a lot more of Sahil, the guy who waited decades for a Starfleet officer, but was seemingly forgotten by Discovery S3 after its first episode until its very last.

It's a good book but it doesn't really stand on its own because it feels like the first act of a longer story; this is about how Burnham is rebuilt in preparation for something else-- but the something else is on the tv show, not here is this book. It might get away with this if the tv show went somewhere worth going, but in fact the strength of this novel made me more aware of how S3 fumbled its landing. There's a big emphasis here on how Burnham carries ideals everyone else has forgotten about, and that also pervaded the first several episodes of S3. So, one might expect that what allows Discovery to succeed in the end of the season is something to do with that. But in fact, when Burnham is made captain at season's end, the Admiral praises her for disobeying her orders... something she did not because of her classic Federation idealism. The Discovery as a whole doesn't succeed because they believe in the Federation, but just because they do better in the big action sequences than the bad guys. (And on top of that, they are mostly pretty dumb action sequences.) Oh, and because the Discovery crew comes up with such a good idea for tracking the source of the Burn it beggars belief that no one else thought of it in a century.

None of this is the novel's fault, of course. But reading it did make me realize we were robbed of a better story than the one we were told; it's a better ste-up novel than the season's poor pay-off warrants.

(Also: I did kinda wonder about the title going in, but it turned out to be a good choice. As we learned back in S1, one of Burnham's defining books was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and of course she's "through the rabbit hole" here, in a world all topsy-turvy and without logic. Additionally, Burnham remembers a piece of Anglo-Saxon poetry she once read about "a man walking through the ruins that the Romans left behind. This ruin is a wonder . . ." What bothers me here is that upon Googling, the only hit I can find for the poetry is Wonderlands itself. What is she quoting!?)

((Also also: I liked how a number of minor characters were named after early women Star Trek novelists.))


  1. Wasn't it season three of Discovery that she was stuck alone for a year?