John Jackson Miller’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The High Country – Book Spotlight

Welcome back, Readers!

While, generally, I try to limit my gushing to readable works in these Spotlights, can we take a moment to acknowledge the current state of Star Trek and how generally great it is? If you have Paramount+ and have been enjoying the slate of newer Trek material like I have ( #savestartrekprodigy ) you’ll know what I mean. But I think the break-out star series among the lot has to be Strange New Worlds.

I enjoy Discovery well enough and Picard pokes at my nostalgia for The Next Generation despite making me feel like the Borg are due to take a back-seat in favor of some other bad guys. Prodigy didn’t land for me till I was a couple episodes in and now I think it’s right up there and it’s so disappointing to know that its future is so uncertain. Lower Decks is a beast all of its own and I enjoy it very, very much. But Strange New Worlds is such an amazing series that does all of the things, every one of the things, I need a Trek series to do. It’s episodic while tackling larger, longer story lines. It has a fantastic ensemble cast, each and every one of which can carry an episode. (I hope we get an Ortegas episode at some point. I’m up to Episode 8 of Season 2 and we haven’t had one yet and I don’t know why because she’s so cool.) We have an amazing Captain who is immensely likeable and capable of action as well as those deep character moments we all enjoy in Trek. He’s a little haunted by his known future, but works tirelessly to ensure that the present is the best it can be for everyone under his wing. Also? Smilin’ Spock. (Original Series fans will remember that early series Spock was more prone to smiling. This was worked out of the character by Leonard Nimoy as the show progressed. Strange New Worlds goes to the effort of creating a context for this and I love it.)

So, bringing the ship back around to books, when this gem popped up in my recommended reads? I was 100% on-board! It came out in February and I only wish I’d known about it sooner!

Anyway! Calibrate your sensors, initialize your reading pad of choice (Or go straight up old-school and crack open your paper copy – it would be thematically appropriate I assure you.) and let’s move forward at half-impulse as we take on The High Country!

Book Stats

Basic Premise

This story happens between episodes 7 and 8 of Strange New Worlds, Season 1. While checking out an experimental shuttlecraft, Captain Pike, Una, Uhura and Spock are all doing their duties, endeavoring to make sure that the shuttle is running optimally. Which it, of course, stops doing or we wouldn’t have much of a story.

There’s a strange energy field in this nebula that makes anything running on electricity shut down entirely. No sensors, no navigation, no life support, nothing. A plan is hatched that, while the Enterprise is far enough away to be unaffected, they can try a one-by-one transport to the surface of a nearby planet. Hemmer has to push his abilities to the limit to do it, but he manages to get everyone to the surface safely.

Relatively speaking.

Una Chin-Riley winds up in the middle of a dense jungle being chased down by a fuzzy dinosaur sort of an animal who very much wants to make her dinner. Spock awakens deep underwater in an enviro-suit that’s not working. So, sort of drowning, sort of suffocating, sort of both at the same time? And Uhura finds herself in a volcanic wasteland faced with a sentient ball of flame.

Christopher Pike finds himself in a warm bed and immediately sets about rescuing the town drunk from a burning mill.

It’s good to be the Captain.

As it turns out, there’s a lot more going on here than you might assume at first. Chris sees humans, horses, sheep, dogs – if anything, this place could have been ripped out of any western state during the 1800s! Not only that but the field that caused the shuttle to fail wasn’t just some random happenstance or natural phenomenon… it’s called the baffle and it exists very, very much on purpose. Also, even fire on this world doesn’t operate quite how you’d expect!

There are other species here as well! People from worlds that aren’t Earth and they, likewise, are living in the past as blacksmiths, hairdressers… Not only that but there’s a certain level of oppression taking place here.

Can Pike discover what’s going on? Can he help the people here? More importantly, can he re-unite with his crew and get back out into space? All signs point to no… as does someone from Pike’s own past.

Intriguing, right? You need to check this one out!

My Take

I very much enjoyed this one.

The author, John Jackson Miller, has already written a book about Pike and Spock set in the Discovery era (Star Trek Discovery: The Enterprise War) so it’s not surprising he has such a great grasp on the characters. (He actually does a lot of both Star Trek and Star Wars tie in books. He walks both paths… What a legend!) Everyone is distinct and well characterized. This book was written while Season 1 was still in production as well so that makes it extra impressive that the characterization is so spot-on. Even if he was going by the standards of these characters as they are in the Original Series, the characterizations are quite different as these are all much younger iterations of the folks we meet in that show.

Pacing is really good with shorter, but impactful chapters. There’s no wasted pages and things move along briskly, while not feeling rushed or haphazard. Everything has a reason to be there and it’s all interesting stuff. I especially enjoyed the Nyota Uhura chapters as she uses her communication skills to work with a being that’s so vastly different while dealing with the problem of just surviving in an environment that’s almost entirely hostile.

For the audio version your narrator is Robert Petkoff. He does a fantastic job with the very varied characterizations he has to deal with! From Pike’s comfortable humility to a scaredy-cat alien blacksmith, a wild-west drunken inventor to the always professional and cool Una, he does a great job.

If you’re a Star Trek fan in general and especially if you’re a fan of Strange New Worlds, this one comes highly recommended by me!

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