Not long ago I rekindled my interest in the Star Trek tie-in novels thanks to the narrative thread concerning the shady Section 31 and its heavy involvement in Federation policies: through David Mack’s Control and Collateral Damage I learned of a dark event in the continuing story, one concerning a corrupt Federation president and the unavoidable conspiracy to remove him from office.  At the time, most of the people involved in the situation, including Captain Picard, did not know that Section 31 had decided to later kill president Zife, which in the end caused the Enterprise’s captain to be prosecuted for his role in the whole sorry mess.  

A Time to Kill, and its companion novel A Time to Heal, portray the circumstances that led to the massive interstellar crisis which later decreed Zife’s removal from office: these books represent a prequel to the ones I mentioned before, and they helped me put in better focus the overall story – they are also part of a longer series filling the blanks between the end of the Dominion War and the events of the movie Nemesis, which marks several changes in the composition of the Enterprise’s complement.

In the darkest hours of the Dominion War president Zife and his closest advisors (probably prompted by Section 31) decided to arm the planet Tezwa, lying close to the Klingon border, with a new kind of devastating weapon as a last resort against the invasion, although it was a choice in direct violation of the treaties between the Federation and the Empire.  Now that the Dominion threat is no more, Kinchawn – Tezwa’s new Prime Minister and a power-hungry individual – threatens to encroach on Klingon territory, knowing that those same weapons would give him a formidable advantage.  Picard and the Enterprise are sent to defuse this potentially explosive situation, but lack of knowledge of the powerful armament’s existence, or of the Federation’s higher echelons’ involvement, places him and his crew in a disastrous situation that looks more like a no-win scenario with every passing hour…

As I found out with the two previous Star Trek tie-in books written by David Mack, this is not the kind of story we saw in the televised episodes, where no matter how dire the situation, or how troublesome the political implications, at the end of the episode’s 45 minutes a solution is found and everything is tied up nicely: A Time to Kill is a thrilling mix of action sequences and behind-the-scenes machinations that combine to depict what is probably the worst diplomatic crisis ever faced by the Federation and make this novel a compelling page turner. The story also focuses on a good number of new faces among the Enterprise’s complement, which helps in broadening the narrative scope and gifting the novel with a definite choral feel by presenting these people with a depth of background, motivations and dilemmas that turn them into something more than cardboard characters to be introduced in one scene and killed off in the next.

One major thread in the story concerns the commando-style mission carried out by the crew to destroy the six weapons emplacements scattered across the planet before the guns can be used against the advancing Klingon fleet: the POV shifts between the various teams, and the problems they encounter in the mission, provide all the adrenaline one could ask for – and more – and offer a dramatic counterpoint to the equally difficult diplomatic situation faced by Captain Picard, who’s compelled to ask his former officer Worf, now the Federation ambassador to the Klingon empire, to perform a covert and dangerous operation on his own homeworld.  

Nonetheless, even though these sections offer a compelling read, I found that what happens on Earth in the rarefied heights of politics represents the true backbone of the story, mostly because I discovered that the infamous president Zife looks little more than a front for his Machiavellian chief adviser – a man gifted with great strategic skills but cursed with a chilling lack of empathy –  and that the Section 31 masterminds are the real movers and shakers of the whole scenario. What I find fascinating here is the strong House of Cards vibes I derived from this part of the story, where cut-throat politics and scheming feel very unlike what we have been shown of the Federation so far, while making me wonder how much of its flawless public image was really just a façade.  It all fits with what I’ve learned so far about Section 31’s involvement in the management of Federation politics, and it also shows the author’s skill in developing this concept of the darkness at the core of the utopia, and expanding it in the later books.

Character-wise, A Time to Kill offers some intriguing angles on the ones we know best, showing how recent events plagued them with some insecurities which weigh heavily on the choices they have to make: in a sense this makes them more sympathetic and helps to show they are normal people trying to deal with extraordinary issues, rather than larger-than-life heroes. Oddly enough, I find I like these characters more when they are less heroic and invincible, because they end up feeling more real.

As the first part of a duology, this book ends with something of a cliffhanger and I count myself fortunate to have had the possibility of reading the sequel back to back, because the wait would otherwise have been hard to bear…

My Rating:

6 thoughts on “STAR TREK: A TIME TO KILL, by David Mack

  1. This sounds thrilling! If I had more time I’d jump into Star Trek novels, because I love the idea of darker stories that, as you said, don’t always have a nice happy ending😁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy to see you enjoyed this. It’s probably not one for me but that has nothing to do with a lack of enthusiasm or excellent review. I hope the second worked out as well for you.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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