In the year 2259, the U.S.S. Enterprise heads off to a planet so remote that it is only known by its surveyor’s catalog entry, FGC-7781 b. They’re investigating the disappearance of Braidwood, a civilian anthropological expedition that had been missing for almost a year. What they discover on FGC-7781 b is something that no one was expecting. Find out just what they discovered in John Jackson Miller’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The High Country.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Simon and Schuster for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The High Country contains some spoilers!]
An Enterprise search and rescue mission needs rescuing
The U.S.S. Enterprise, captained by Captain Christoper Pike, is looking for the ship Braidwood. Braidwood’s last transmission claimed that they had detected civilization on FGC-7781 b. The Braidwood should have then waited for backup but contact was lost. Pike assumes that Braidwood landed on the planet anyway and encountered problems.
Now the Enterprise is approaching the planet. They’re picking up similar readings to those from the Braidwood, there are definitely settlements on the planet, but there doesn’t appear to be any advanced technology.
Captain Pike decides to accompany a small landing party consisting of himself, Uhura, a language expert, Spock, his science officer, and Una Chin-Riley, his Number 2. They’re coasting past the planet when suddenly the ship completely shuts down. The systems start to come back on, and then they fail again. Suddenly the ship is in free-fall towards FGC-7781 b.
The Enterprise is experiencing the same power failures as the smaller ship, but being further out from the planet, they don’t crash. In a last-ditch effort to save the crew in free-fall, the Enterprise teleports them out of the ship and onto the planet’s surface. Then they get away from the strange effects of the planet.
Because of the repeated system failures, the transports get the crew off the crashing ship but their landings are random. The crew is separated with no way to communicate with each other or the Enterprise. And the Enterprise has no idea how to locate or extract them. Then things really get difficult.
Frontier America in outer space?
The various crew members land in very different circumstances all over the planet. Miller gives us the basics of where each crew member ended up but he focuses on Pike’s experiences for most of the story.
Pike doesn’t even realize that he’s awake when he first comes around. He seems to be on a frontier farm when he comes around and thinks he’s dreaming. You can’t blame him, who would expect to meet humans, speaking English, on a frontier farm in a remote, and thought to be uninhabited, corner of space? But it turns out he’s not dreaming. He’s landed on a planet full of settlements of different species from different places around the universe, all frozen in time.
The citizens of Epheska (their name for FGC-7781 b) were all originally brought to the planet by the Skargaran race. The groups were scooped up moments before they were wiped away by natural or man-made disasters. The only price their Skargaran saviors ask is that they stay at exactly the technological level they were at when they were rescued.
The planet Epheska itself helps to enforce this edict. First, there is the baffle, which is like an EMP that surrounds the planet. It’s what caused Captain Pike and his crew to crash in the first place. Then there’s the Sorry, sentient fire that seeks out and destroys technology, but doesn’t hurt people.
Between these two natural phenomena and the rules of the Skargarans, the residents of Epheska have stayed exactly the same for hundreds of years. Most accept their circumstances and are happy, but not all of them. These self-named “Menders” want to be able to grow, change, and advance but they’re not allowed. They see Pike as a way to finally break their bonds, but the prime directive is to not interfere.
What will Pike do and how will he get back to the Enterprise with no technology and no way to even create any? Will he, Spock, Uhura, and Una Chin-Riley have to leave the stars behind and be stuck on Epheska forever?
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The High Country is an exciting story with a unique premise
We’ve all read stories of space explorers that crash on remote planets and have to use their wits to get off the planet. But most of these travelers have at least some of their technology left to them, and they usually use that to contact rescuers somehow that save them with more technology. But in Strange New Worlds: The High Country there is no technology. And even if they could contact the Enterprise, the transporters won’t work. Miller presents a really unique situation that forces the explorers to think and adapt to the highly unusual circumstances and elevates the basic lost space explorer story to a new and exciting adventure.
Hidden within this intriguing tale is the utopian/dystopian trope. Epheska is presented as a utopia, especially by the Skargarans that are running the planet. But is it truly a utopia if everyone in the utopia isn’t happy there?
The longer the Enterprise crew is there, the more it becomes apparent that some citizens of Epheska are truly happy, but others desperately want change. The perfect, happy, tech-free world that the Skargarans present doesn’t really represent the reality of life on Epheska. Captain Pike and his crew face the thorny problem of what, if anything, they should do about it.
The question becomes even more complicated when they learn the secret behind the technological barriers. Not to mention the problem of them trying to leave the planet. All these different factors come together for a thrilling and surprisingly complex story that was very satisfying.
Perfect for Star Trek fans, and everyone else
Confession time: I have never watched Star Trek in any form. I think when I was a kid and we’d visit family reruns were sometimes playing on a tv in the corner, but I didn’t actually watch it. So while I love to read anything, I wasn’t sure that I’d really enjoy Strange New Worlds: The High Country. But Miller pleasantly surprised me.
Having prior knowledge of Star Trek may have enriched the story but it wasn’t necessary at all. The story was enjoyable and exciting without knowing anything about the Star Trek world. And the concepts of utopia/dystopia and what the rescued owe their rescuers are complex and well-explored by Miller. Star Trek fans are sure to love Strange New Worlds: The High Country, but so are readers who have never watched a single episode.
My Rating: 9/10
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The High Country by John Jackson Miller is available now. Have you read it? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out the season 1 finale review of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds!