Star Trek: Titan returns with its first full-length novel since 2012. “Sight Unseen” is the eighth book in the series (not counting the crew’s appearances in various crossover events like “The Fall”) and was written by James Swallow. Swallow previously gave us “Synthesis,” one of the strongest entries in the Titan series. With the Star Trek universe being a place of steady conflict and conspriacy in recent years, the USS Titan has been one of the last vessels dedicated to deep space exploration. But as Admiral Riker knows, things can change drastically with a single order.
An original spin-off novel set in the popular “Star Trek: The Next Generation” universe from New York Times bestselling author James Swallow! In the wake of political upheaval across the United Federation of Planets, Admiral William Riker and the crew of the U.S.S. Titan find themselves in uncertain waters as roles aboard the ship change to reflect a new mandate and a new mission. On orders from Starfleet, Titan sets out toward the edge of Federation space to tackle its latest assignment: to work with an alien species known as the Dinac, who are taking their first steps into the galaxy at large as a newly warp-capable civilization. But when disaster befalls the Dinac, the Titan crew discovers they have unknowingly drawn the attention of a deadly, merciless enemy—a nightmare from Riker’s past lurking in the darkness. Friendships will be tested to the limit as familiar faces and new allies must risk everything in a fight against an unstoppable invader—or a horrific threat will be unleashed on the galaxy!
Admiral William Riker has championed the cause of returning Starfleet to its core mission of exploration. He personally issued the order to send Picard’s Enterprise back to the frontier. So it’s a moment of galactic irony when he receives his own new orders, effectively ending Titan’s exploratory mission and assigning him to command a remote sector on the edge of Federation space. What’s more, he is ordered to promote his first officer, Christine Vale, to captain. This officially clips his space wings, leaving him to act as administrator of big-picture Federation business while Vale maintains total command of ship operations. With the stroke of a pen (or rather, the press of a thumb) Riker finds himself following not in Picard’s footsteps, but more likely Benjamin Sisko’s.
But of course, crisis immediately derails Riker’s mission when they must search for the Starfleet training vessel Whitetree, which has disappeared from the Admiral’s new sector without a trace. While en route, a massive spatial rift yanks Titan out of warp, and they come to suspect that a similar phenomenon may have consumed the Whitetree. At the same time, Riker’s crew begins to suffer from extreme sleep disturbances with vivid, painful dreams. As these crewmen approach Deanna Troi for counseling, she realizes the unavoidable similarities to the abductions suffered by Riker on the Enterprise years earlier.
The ‘clickity-clackers’ have returned.
In keeping with the recent trend of picking up dropped threads from the TV shows, James Swallow brings back the alien abductors from The Next Generation episode “Schisms,” whose species has now been named the Solanae. This was an excellent episode that screamed for follow up, but it was produced in Season 6, and the arc was never revisited before the series ended after Season 7.
Characters are the bedrock of any story, and while Titan employs only four canon characters (Riker, Troi, Tuvok and Melora Pazlar, a single-appearance DS9 guest), it boasts a rich assortment of new ones. I have commented on podcasts and in other articles that some Trek crews now carry too many humans—or worse, aliens who are alien in name only, and have utterly human dispositions. Swallow makes wonderful use of Titan’s diverse crew, where humans are actually the minority. Many new characters have not only unique physicality, but differing sensibilities, world views and sexual orientations.
“Sight Unseen” treats us to two new characters: Lt. Ethan Kyzak is a Skagaran, and essentially an alien cowboy who arrives on ship with his own saddle, country manners, and galaxy-class cajones. He is instantly likeable and relatable, and his bravery engenders instant loyalty, which he readily gives in return. Commander Dalit Sarai is an Efrosian female (same species as the white-haired alien president from “The Undiscovered Country”) and despite arriving with just a carry-on, she comes to Titan with major baggage. Sarai got mixed up with former President Pro Tempore Ishan Anjar, who helped engineer the assassination of his predecessor and nearly plunged the Federation into war. Sarai is now a pariah and no one is sure how or why she’s gotten this posting. Her personality and circumstances very much resemble those of Ensign Ro from the TNG episode—you got it—“Ensign Ro.” And she creates instant character conflict.
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Swallow does a remarkable job reintroducing the Solanae. While their entrance resembles what we saw on the TV show, the author quickly dials it up to eleven, and we are treated to a ship-wide invasion that’s gripping and chilling—expect an increased heart rate and rapid page turning.
If the threat posed by the Solanae wasn’t enough, there is constant character drama at every turn. Riker struggles to take a back seat to Captain Vale when these aggressors from his past attack his ship and threaten his loved ones. Vale bristles at his constant interference, but at the same time privately fears failure in her first command. Virtually all of the supporting players have meaningful interactions and motivations as this tense storyline unfolds.
Titan’s removal from its mission of exploration is partially chalked up to Admiral Riker being considered a bit of a screw-up by Starfleet Command. His recent possession by the Cytherians is cited as an example (another dropped thread, this one from TNG’s “The Nth Degree.” It was picked up in the novel “Takedown” by John Jackson Miller). It is also suggested that Riker isn’t much of a diplomat. I don’t buy either one of these assertions. If possession derailed Starfleet careers, then all of our heroes would be waiting tables at a Starbase. And Riker has been shown to be an accomplished diplomat and negotiator on several occasions. It seems to me that this plot point was a device, introduced as a means of changing Riker’s marching orders. It felt out of touch with the character and was largely unnecessary. Other reasons were given for his new mission, and they would have been more than sufficient. There was no need to diminish Riker’s character by putting him in the doghouse without cause.
This is the best Trek novel I’ve read in a long time. I’m a little biased because I love the episode “Schisms” and always wanted to know more about the clickity-clackers. I think Swallow carried the torch better than anyone could’ve hoped for. He created a story with great use of existing characters, and enjoyable and interesting new characters. The tension is created in the first chapter and never lets up, driving the story forward like a hurdling express train. This is a thriller, and while there is certainly darkness, it never goes too dark—it never becomes gratuitous. Normally, I’d be upset about yet another war story, but the arc of the book is so masterfully handled that I barely gave that a thought – I was too busy turning the pages. Swallow has done great things with the Titan in this book and in his previous ones, and I hope he continues to be the primary—if not the sole—writer on the series (much like Kirsten Beyer on Voyager). I love the super-diverse crew where humans are the minority and every character is distinct and memorable.
Captain Picard once predicted that a ship under Riker’s command would be “vibrant with his style and vision.” James Swallow has made that prediction a reality, and I can’t wait to see where he takes us next.
Amazon customer score: 4.7 out of 5 (with 12 reviews)
“Star Trek: Titan: Sight Unseen” is now available on Amazon.
Dan Levitt is a co-host of the Ten Forward Podcast, a weekly Star Trek variety show featuring discussion & debate, book reviews, and the infamous “Desert Island Trek.” Dan lives on Long Island, and has worked in book publishing, corporate training and operations management. In addition to loving Trek, he is an avid Star Wars fan, film score lover, movie poster collector and home theater enthusiast.