Star Trek Discovery: Wonderlands by Una McCormack book review
A year is a long time. That’s how long Michael Burnham was trapped in the 32nd century before Discovery and her crew finally emerged from the cosmic soup of space/time. So, what did Michael get up between season 3, episode 1 and season 3, episode 2 of Star Trek: Discovery? Let’s find out.
It’s easy to feel as though a whole year can slip by, and often I find myself looking back at years end and thinking, where did the time go? This is not the case if your name is Michael Burnham. In Wonderlands, Michael burns as brightly as ever, always trying to help, putting her nose into places and sniffing around — whether she is welcome or not.
After Michael is saved (well, sort of) by Cleveland “Book” Booker, she catches up with Sahil, who has been keeping a remote federation outpost alive almost singlehandedly. There, she meets Jeremiah, who agrees to help her retrieve some info from her broken tricorder. In the meantime, Michael needs something to do, so Book agrees to help her get into the courier trade.
There is some tension between the trio of Michael, Sahil and Book. Sahil represents the old way of doing things, while Book represents the new — and Michael finds herself pulled in both directions. She has fallen down the rabbit hole and struggles to understand her role in this brave new world.
The book’s title, Wonderlands, references Alice in Wonderland. Michael names her small courier ship Alice, and several other references are dotted throughout the book. Like Alice In Wonderland, Michael finds herself overwhelmed by a strange new world that she doesn’t understand. There is no Federation, no Starfleet, and no dilithium to power the warp drives — so she turns to the people around her to provide guidance.
I loved Una McCormack’s prequel novel The Last Best Hope, so I had high hopes for this one. And although Wonderlands is an excellent book, it somehow didn’t quite impress me as much as her Picard prequel.
Wonderlands has many positive attributes. It’s well written, entertaining and remains true to the show’s tone. McCormack, as usual, displays an impressive grasp of the on-screen characters and perfectly translates them down to the page. But my one minor issue with the book is its pacing. Wonderlands crams in a hell of a lot of story into a single book, and the reader often gets a summary of something without being able to truly experience it.
This was probably a conscious choice on McCormack’s behalf. Discovery is a twisty, thrill-a-minute show, and Michael is often rash and impulsive, always going at a hundred miles an hour. The pace of Wonderlands reflects this — the storyline sometimes feels rash and impulsive, with many side quests and mini-stories that wrap up quickly before rushing onto the next.
For example, in a scene in which Book is taken captive, Michael has to bust him out. The actual jailbreak could have been an entire chapter — perhaps 5000 words or so — but the whole thing is summarised in 50 words or less. The nature of narrative fiction is that the writer picks and chooses which parts of the story to examine up close and which parts to skip over. A problem can be that when so much story is crammed in, it can feel like too much is getting skipped.
Despite the frantic pace, we really do experience a full year through Michael Burnham’s eyes. Yes, it is a wild ride. But undercutting all the action with the White Palm, Vanguard and everything else Michael gets muddled up in, we also experience the loneliness Michael feels, and her melancholy, as she discovers old personal logs recorded as the burn took place. We watch the complex relationship between Michael and Book evolve — they have a lot of fun together, but their destinies aren’t aligned.
That brings me to another minor point and something I love about Una McCormack — she uses the classic Star Trek logs in her books. E.g. “Personal log, Michael Burnham, stardate….” This is an excellent device for filling in the blanks around a story and a classic part of Star Trek on screen; it’s weird how few writers use these log entries in the books.
Overall, Wonderlands is another example of how good Star Trek literature has become. It’s fun, thoughtful — quite funny in parts, yet bittersweet and melancholy in others. I think Una McCormack did a great job with this one.