Wow. This is an amazing book; it demonstrates the fun and depth that good science fiction writing can achieve. It had profundity, depth, and wonder encapsulated in a Star Trek novel. I finished it in about three days, part of which was on a plane from Rapid City to DFW. I was actually frustrated when the pilot announced we were landing because that meant I would need to stop reading.
One of the advantages of a science fiction book over a TV show or film is that books are not constrained by special effects budgets or the limitations of humans playing alien characters. Duane creates far more fantastic aliens that we have seen in Star Trek‘s on screen incarnations, including a felid, a transporter operator with multiple tentacles, and the book’s main character, a sentient arachnoid (spider-shaped) glass-clear engineer named K’t’lk. The apostrophes take the place of the only vowel in her species’ language, “an E above high C, surrounded by shivery harmonics.”
We also have alien genders. Most characters (including K’t’lk) are easily categorized as male or female, but others are referred to as “it” and “hir” as a matter of course. Another species has 12 genders, all of which claim to be male, especially those that bear children.
The book takes us from a fairly ordinary beginning of the Enterprise testing a new drive system to the far side of another galaxy and an encounter with another universe; in fact, it is another kind of universe. As a physicist, I find the most compelling and fascinating sections of the book to be those that deal with the relationships among entropy (or the lack thereof), time, pain, death, and the nature of God.
I think I see the influences of C. S. Lewis in many sections of this novel, most obviously because of a ship named Malacandra. Other scenes remind me of The Magician’s Nephew, Peralandra, and The Great Divorce.
If you are not a Star Trek fan, I think this book will still be accessible. While the book makes references back to original series episodes, these are not essential for understanding the plot or characters in the book. The mention of the Enterprise‘s “disastrous” previous attempt to leave the galaxy is a reference to “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Kirk’s pervious experience inhabiting a woman’s body occurred in “Turnabout Intruder.”