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Star Trek: Burning Dreams, by Margaret Wander Bonanno
Genre: Star Trek
Publisher: Pocket Books
Published: 2006
Review Posted: 12/6/2006
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated

Star Trek: Burning Dreams, by Margaret Wander Bonanno

Book Review by David Roy

Have you read this book?

Some fans of the original Star Trek series often wonder what happened to Christopher Pike, the captain of the Enterprise when Spock first served on the ship and the man for whom Spock risked so much in the episode "The Menagerie." While there have been a few novels taking place within the Pike era, none of them have really delved into just who this man was and why Spock was so loyal to him. Margaret Wander Bonanno has rectified that with Burning Dreams, almost the definitive Pike story. In it, we see some of his childhood and how he became the man he was, and we see the results of Spock's actions in that episode. Bonanno overcomes a slow start to give the reader a breathtaking read, an examination of a man who has gone through a great portion of his adult life wondering whether everything he has gone through has all been an illusion of the Talosians.

Burning Dreams wanders a bit, so a plot summary is hard to do. The book begins with Spock being called back to Talos IV many years after Kirk's death. Is this to be a final farewell to a man who helped shape Spock's life? We then see Pike, returned by Spock to Talos IV as a horribly disfigured man, get to know Vina, the woman who had attracted him so much during his first visit to the planet. Vina wants to know everything about him, which is what prompts the story of his life. We see his childhood on a colony world with a stepfather who is driven to terraform a planet at the expense of his family, and the events that made Pike the man he became. We see an early mission of Pike's, the events that led to the Enterprise's visit to Talos IV, a mission about thirteen years later which drove home Pike's fear that the last thirteen years had all been an illusion, and then the terrible accident that caused his current condition. All of this is torn apart, mixed together, and displayed to the reader with wonderful dedication by Bonanno. The themes running through the book are clear, despite the jagged nature of the timeline in the book. The book ends with a perfect coda, tying everything together and helping everybody move forward.

I'll begin with the only really bad thing I can say about Burning Dreams. The beginning, with Pike's initial meeting with Vina and the establishment of their new relationship now that he's crippled, as well as Pike's childhood which he tells Vina about, is extremely slow and not as interesting as the rest of the book. I found myself putting the book down a couple of times as it didn't hold my interest that much. Not having a lot invested in Pike (I've never been one of those Star Trek fans with a burning desire to know more about Pike), I was hoping that the rest of the book wouldn't be this way. I can't point to anything that's "wrong" in the beginning; it's just that she didn't capture me.

That all changed after the climactic events on the colony and Pike's moving offworld with Charlie. These, and the Starfleet sequences, really picked things up, and I also started becoming interested in what was happening on Talos IV between Pike and Vina. Burning Dreams not only delves into Pike, but it also shows us a lot about the Talosians themselves, and I found them a fascinating race. Bonanno shows us Vina's side of the events from "The Cage," (the original pilot episode with Pike as the captain) as well as exactly why the Talosians did what they did. Bonanno weaves all of this into a wonderful tapestry that never lets you go once it has you.

She also does a wonderful job with the characterizations. Spock (and one brief scene with Sulu, showing that he is alive at a certain point for those continuity buffs who are always wondering about him) is definitely well done, but the most impressive job is with Pike. Bonanno has had to bring together multiple personality characteristics from various novels and the one episode in which he appears to give us a man who is fascinating to read about. He's introspective, but not afraid of action. He takes chances (even more so when he feels he has to prove to himself that he's not living an illusion), he's dedicated, and he's willing to do what is right no matter what the cost. Most importantly, he's a man that I would have loved to see a television series about. Not that Kirk was bad, but this book makes it a bit disappointing that the original pilot failed to please NBC executives. Bonanno does a great job with the secondary characters as well, especially Charlie, Pike's father figure with a secret of his own. The relationship between the two of them is great, and it colors the whole book even when Charlie isn't in it for a large period of time.

Finally, I really liked the way Bonanno cut the narrative into different pieces and utilized it to showcase the themes throughout the book. Each scene builds on the previous ones in different ways, and we see how the haunting memory of Vina affects all of his subsequent relationships, not to mention his continuing doubts of his own reality based on how powerful the Talosian telepathic ability is. Each chapter is clearly labeled with when it takes place, so there is no confusion.

Burning Dreams is definitely a book worth picking up by any Trek fan, especially fans of the original series. You don't have to have been a Pike fan to enjoy it. As I said, I never really cared one way or the other about him. This book made me care, and made me miss what might have been. Perhaps in an alternate reality, Star Trek would be about Captain Pike, Spock, Number One, and the rest of the Enterprise crew. That doesn't strike me as necessarily a bad thing.
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