Ishmael by Barbara Hambly
Posted October 5, 2016on:
So, apparently I’m on a Star Trek kick?
published in 1985
where I got it: purchased used
When I saw this book at a used bookstore a while back, I couldn’t say no. I mean come on – Spock playing what looks like chess in what looks like it could be the wild west? Also? Any Spock story is a good story. And Barbara Hambly? Shut up and take my two bucks.
At Starbase 12, Kirk and Spock observe a Klingon transport ship behaving rather oddly. Spock manages to get aboard, and the next thing everyone knows, the ship has entered the mysterious storms of the nearby Tau Eridani Cloud and disappeared. Kirk blames himself for Spock’s disappearance and fears the worst.
Suffering from amnesia, Spock wakes up in the woods under the blue sky of a planet. The year is 1867 and he’s in Seattle, which is a muddy logging town on the frontier. Injured and weak, Spock is taken in and nursed back to health by Aaron Stemple. Nicknamed Ishmael, and introduced around as Stemple’s nephew, Spock’s memories very slowly return to him. He knows his homeworld is elsewhere, he has bits and pieces of memories of technology. Meanwhile, Stemple give Ishmael a job at his mill, and helps him learn about the politics of the Seattle community. The story rambles a bit, with Ishmael sharing his contemporary and progressive worldview, and inadvertently widening the worldview of those he befriends in Seattle. It doesn’t matter what Spock is doing, it’s always fun to watch him interact with humans who act impulsively and irrationally. And of course, I heard every line in my head in Leonard Nimoy’s voice.
Stemple tells Ishmael that he must have come to Earth for a reason, but what could that reason possibly be? The two of them have no clue, but Ishmael is coming to peace with the idea that he will never know where he is from, and he will one day die on this planet that he will always be a stranger on. Ok, I know this is a cheeseball Star Trek novel, but I really felt for him. It’s freakin’ tragic! Barbara Hambly is a fantastic writer, and she puts so much color and depth into this story. Was this a total brain candy read? Yeah. But it sure was fun and satisfying too.
Meanwhile, in the future, Kirk is exhausting himself trying to figure out what happened to the Klingon transport, in hopes the ship will be found and that Spock is still alive. With the help of a Vulcan historian, they learn about the Karsids, a race that approached less technologically advanced races and eventually enslaved them, and in fact had enslaved the Klingons for a time. The Karsids did make contact with Earth, but were turned away. Could all these events be connected?
What I love about these Star Trek novels is that they are far longer than a 45 minute tv episode, and offer a ton more character development. I’ve not read many of them, but the ones I have read I’ve enjoyed. Sure, there is plenty of canon rules the authors can’t break, but by placing her story in Seattle in the 1860s, Hambly had a veritable sandbox to play in. She creates new characters for everyone to interact with, and even puts a nice little twist at the end that even Spock apparently didn’t see coming. Hambly is one of those under-appreciated writers that it doesn’t matter what she writes, it’s going to be good.
Other fun bits in this story:
- Base Commander Maria Kellogg calls Jim Kirk “Jamie”. Does anyone else call him that?
- There’s a reference to the famous TOS episode “City on the Edge of Tomorrow”
- There is a ton of discussion about how time travel isn’t yet possible. This novel was published in 1985, and in 1986 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home came out, in which time travel is very possible. The Federation sure learned a lot in one year!
And of course, the novel ends with Kirk, McCoy, and Spock having a drink and chatting about what they’ve just been through.