By now, most Star Trek fans have watched the two-part season premiere of Star Trek: Discovery (if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?), and now the first tie-in novel is upon us. Star Trek Discovery: Desperate Hours by David Mack, a celebrated Star Trek author, takes us to the Shenzhou about a year before the events we see in the show.
There’s a lot of interesting information jam-packed into this book. If you enjoyed the show and are curious to learn more about the characters, I recommend picking it up. After all, the action-packed two-parter didn’t leave a lot of time to get into the nitty-gritty of characters (but presumably that’s coming, especially with the mini-movie nature of the premiere). Here are four of the most interesting tidbits about the show and characters I gleaned from this excellent book.
Sarek talked Michael into joining Starfleet
As we learned from the pilot episode, Michael attended the Vulcan Science Academy, not Starfleet. We also know that Sarek orchestrated Michael’s placement aboard the Shenzhou under the leadership of Captain Philippa Georgiou.
But the book tells us that it was Sarek who talked Michael into joining Starfleet in the first place. The novel Desperate Hours reveals that she has some trouble getting along with the Shenzhou crew because she’s much more accustomed to working with Vulcans. Her fellow crew members think it’s because she didn’t attend Starfleet Academy, but Michael knows it’s deeper than that. She even applied to serve aboard an all-Vulcan starship, the Intrepid. The captain of that starship, however, saw Michael’s request as something of an insult — “The commander of the Intrepid had made clear she would not be welcome on board, no matter how much she insisted on identifying herself as ‘culturally Vulcan’.”
Michael was promoted to first officer over the more experienced Saru
Readers got a glimpse of the antagonistic relationship between Michael and Saru in the show Discovery, but their history wasn’t quite clear. In Desperate Hours, David Mack delves deep into that relationship and reveals that the pair have always been at odds.
Saru is a Kelpian, an alien race that’s new to the Star Trek universe. They are a prey species; as actor Doug Jones explains in the pilot, their planet does not have a food chain. You are either predator or prey, and Kelpians are prey. His is basically a species that is ruled by avoidance and fear, which is antithetical to the logical Michael.
In fact, Saru should have been the officer up for promotion when Captain Georgiou had to choose a first officer. He was the senior officer, and had the advantage of attending Starfleet Academy, where he received command training. The decision came from above Philippa’s head to promote Burnham over Saru, though she agreed with it.
Desperate Hours covers this delicate territory and navigation of fragile relationships and egos (something Captain Georgiou does excellently in the novel), but it’s clear that Saru is, understandably, not pleased with the decision. In fact, it’s bad enough that Philippa is concerned that she might have to transfer one of the two off the Shenzhou if their relationship doesn’t improve.
The Shenzhou has dentists
Okay, this is not the earth-shattering revelation that you’d expect to find in a prequel novel, but I found it interesting nonetheless. The Shenzhou is a small ship. You’d think there would be dentists on a ship like the Enterprise D (from Star Trek: The Next Generation), which had over a thousand people assigned to it. But a small ship like the Shenzhou? That’s a surprise.
This begs the question of how dentistry even works during the time period Discovery is set in. I’d guess that cleanings were automated procedures, sort of like a sonic shower, but oral surgery is much more delicate. Perhaps the breadth of the Shenzhou’s missions, which took them to the edge of Federation space time and time again, necessitated having an oral surgeon on board, rather than relying on starbases and space stations. Or maybe every ship in the fleet has someone on board capable of performing dental surgery.
Spock and Michael barely have a relationship
One of the major questions to come out of the revelation that Michael is Sarek’s foster daughter is the issue of why Spock has never mentioned her. Mack has given us part of that answer in Desperate Hours: They don’t really have any kind of relationship. They certainly don’t think of each other as siblings.
The main connection that Spock and Michael do have is Sarek, and boy, are those feelings complicated on both sides. As we know, Sarek mind-melded with Michael to save her after an attack by the Klingons killed her parents. But he never chose to meld with his own son. We all know Spock’s relationship with Sarek is infinitely complicated; this just adds more layers of resentment and anger to it.
Similarly, Michael constantly felt like she was disappointing Sarek with her choices and her human emotions. She envied Spock, his biological son, not realizing their relationship was just as fraught as hers was with her foster father. Neither of them has spoken with Sarek in years; it’s possible that the Klingon presence in Discovery is the first time Michael contacts him since becoming a part of the Shenzhou crew.