In the new novel Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The High Country by John Jackson Miller, available beginning today from Gallery Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), the crew of the Enterprise find themselves stranded on a world where the laws of physics seems to have left the building!
The High Country is the first prose book to feature the Strange New Worlds crew, and fans of the series will devour it as they eagerly away the return of the flagship in SNW season 2. Read on for our non-spoiler review of The High Country.
Strange New Worlds
As soon as you remove the dust jacket from The High Country, there’s a pretty clear color-coded hint regarding the character who will serve as the primary protagonist of the novel. This is thanks to the hardcover book’s quarter binding, which features black cloth on the spine paired with a goldenrod paper cover. The color pairing evokes the uniform worn by Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) on the Paramount+ series.
It is appropriate to allude to Pike with the cover, not just because the USS Enterprise NCC-1701’s most tall-haired captain is the series character who plays the largest role in this novel, but also because his is the voice Miller most deftly captures. Pike’s perspective (and his penchant for wordplay) are evident throughout the story.
This pairs well with the plot and setting for the novel, which sees the Enterprise’s away team stranded on a planet where technology is outlawed (and the laws in question are the laws of physics). As the only person in Starfleet who can credibly challenge Kirk’s position as the most equine-aligned captain, this means Pike is sort of in his element… a fact expanded upon through his interesting backstory, which plays an important role here.
I’m hesitant to include too many plot details, mainly because the way they unfold throughout The High Country was a delight to me as a Trekkie. I’d hate to spoil any of that for other potential likeminded readers.
Suffice to say that Miller does an excellent job of tying this novel’s plot to Franchise continuity. This includes connections to the ten episodes of Strange New Worlds that have been released so far, between two of which this novel is set.
While SNW may be an episodic series, it also has heavily serialized elements. The High Country takes advantage of the fact that certain subplots were unresolved at the point in the season during which it is set, a clever storytelling conceit. It also means Chief Engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak) can appear, an always-welcome addition to any SNW story.
Furthermore, readers with particular favorites among the Enterprise crew will be pleased to see that nearly every named character that appeared on the ship over the course of season 1 gets at least a line over the course of the book. And while certain crewmembers play leading roles while others occupy supporting roles, this is only the first SNW prose book. Pike and his command crew are such compelling characters, they deserve some time in the spotlight.
It isn’t just episodes of SNW that are alluded to by The High Country, either… but again, I wouldn’t want to deny any readers the exquisite excitement that takes place when the latinum drops and you realize just which Trek series is being referenced. The more Trek you’ve watched (and read), the more you’ll enjoy these revelations.
The High Fantasy Country
But aside from the connections to canon, there’s plenty to enjoy in The High Country in and of itself. Part of this is the fantasy flare that Miller brings to the story, bolstered in no small part by the maps that accompany each of the novel’s five parts.
If, like me, one of your favorite genre conventions is the inclusion of a map to pore over as you savor the prospect of the story that takes place in the terrain depicted therein, these cartographic inclusions are essentially caitain-nip. Better yet, the reasons for their inclusion are interesting, and will be slowly puzzled out over the course of the narrative.
Furthermore, The High Country uses the unique nature of prose storytelling to explore a planet that could likely not appear onscreen on SNW, due to the temporal and budgetary constraints of television storytelling. This translates into a setting that has a varied array of environments, and a series of unexpected types of vessels, one of which is an incredible inclusion that would be particularly difficult to depict in live action.
Another facet of prose storytelling that The High Country utilizes well is the opportunity for a glimpse of the interiority of the characters. This, in turn, gives texture to the existing SNW episodes, giving us insight into what Pike may be thinking while he’s dealing with those adventures. One particularly apt passage allows Pike to reflect that the halcyon pace of Starfleet exploits aren’t conducive to the complete contemplation of the many planets they visit, an interesting observation that adds depth to any Captain’s Log.
The High Country
But perhaps most importantly of all, The High Country is an addictive read that is filled with nice character beats and plenty of impressive set pieces. All of this is integrated in a setting and story that allows for the examination of some of Trek’s most important themes, including forming unity in the face of adversity and emphasizing empathy for one’s adversaries.
The High Country is available at a local bookstore and/or public library near you beginning today!