In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.
Part of this story takes place 4 billion years ago.
One of the gems of the extended Star Trek book universe, Strange New Worlds was a ten-volume strong series of anthology stories set across Star Trek continuity, across many of its shows and ongoing book spin-off series, based on a competition in which lucky, amateur Star Trek writers could get one of their short stories published. It finished in 2007 but was revived once more in 2016 to coincide with the 50th anniversary celebrations, and one would hope the anthology might reappear once again in some format.
‘Reciprocity’, written by Brad Curry, is a good example of why Strange New Worlds is the closest Star Trek will ever come to publishing fan fiction. This comparison is not meant remotely as a slight; while fan fiction is something of a dirty word, there is some tremendous work being done by fan writers online, in places as varied as Ad Astra and the old faithful FanFiction.Net, which keeps the Trek flame burning in the growing absence of tie-in content, and with the advent of Discovery this trend is likely to not disappear in a hurry. Strange New Worlds often took short-story, fan concept which linked into established Trek continuity with an understanding and grace that only die-hard Trek fans could provide. Not all of the stories worked, some naturally showing up the lack of experience of the writers, but all of them felt personal and underpinned with Star Trek lore.
Curry’s story is no exception, tying as it does into The Next Generation episode ‘The Chase’. A story that aired in the sixth season, it’s a memorable tale which taps into Jean-Luc Picard’s love of archaeology as his old professor, Galen, draws the Enterprise-D into what turns out to be an interstellar race to expose a genetic mystery that could explain the origin of life in their galaxy, maybe even the universe. Subsequently referred to as the Progenitors in future tie-in media, Picard discovers trace evidence of ancient humanoids who billions of years ago seeded their DNA in a barren galaxy, which suggests all of the humanoid lifeforms in the Star Trek universe—from humans to Vulcans to Klingons, Cardassians and Romulans—all stem from the same, basic, genetic code.
Even for Star Trek, it’s quite a mind-boggling revelation which, in classic TNG fashion, the show never does anything with again. The Progenitors hope such a message, encoded in their DNA, will help all of the races who share an ancient genetic lineage to come together in peace – though Picard realises that’s not likely to happen in a hurry. ‘Reciprocity’ doesn’t further explore that idea, rather establishes some level of pre-destination paradox in the holographic message the Progenitors seed. Picard, upon the Enterprise-E (so denoted due to oblique mentions of the Dominion) discovering a stable wormhole leading to four billion years ago, sends an identical holographic message of himself thanking the Progenitors in the same manner they would, encoded in DNA.
A chicken and egg scenario, essentially, but one filled with a sprightly sense of hope. Curry captures that same level of wonder in Picard and his crew experienced in ‘The Chase’, aware of both ancient and cosmic forces they’re dealing with, and ultimately the entire story is designed to serve as a sweet epilogue to a story which epitomises the forward-thinking nature of TNG. Picard has no reason to send such a message back so far in time, and risks contaminating the flow of time by doing so (indeed it’s a wonder the Office of Temporal Investigations let Starfleet let him do this), but it’s a very Picard thing to do, especially for the side of the Captain fascinated by archaeology and ancient history.
One added element that Curry brings to his story is how he provides some level of characterisation to the ancient humanoid figure portrayed by Salome Jens in ‘The Chase’ (which many took to suggest the Changelings may too be connected to this DNA seeding, given she later looks very similar in the broader role of the villainous Female Changeling in Deep Space Nine). Curry depicts her as a woman approaching the end of her life, just another member of a race already almost eternal, and through her surroundings manages to capture the idea that the Progenitors could well have been a race much like humanity, exploring the stars before our Sun was even in existence. Maybe their destiny will be that of humanity too.
An enjoyable tale which serves as a nice compliment to ‘The Chase’, captures the feel of The Next Generation, and holds the essence of Star Trek, ‘Reciprocity’ will almost certainly leave you with a comforting smile on your face. Perhaps things will turn out alright, after all.