Sight Unseen shares thematic links with Orion’s Hounds, the third book in the Star Trek: Titan series but the first to truly undertake the ship’s primary mission of exploration. In the latter novel we saw a return of the “Star-jellies“, the race of jellyfish-like aliens from Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s premiere episode, “Encounter at Farpoint”, Upon reading Orion’s Hounds I found myself musing on the thematic similarities that the pilot episode of TNG and the beginning of Titan‘s mission. Not only had the novel followed up on the origins of the enigmatic alien species from the show, it expanded upon it in ways you could only do in a novel, with an impressive depth that set the tone for the novels to follow.
As Sight Unseen begins, the series has reached a turning point. With William Riker having been forced to accept a promotion to Admiral due to the events in the recent novel mini-series Star Trek: The Fall – and the fallout that followed – the future of Titan‘s mission of exploration is in doubt. What follows is James Swallow’s carefully crafted continuation from his previous Titan novel The Poisoned Chalice where he forges a new future for the ship.
As an ardent fan of the series for ten years, I was initially reticent about the prospect of change. One of the core tenets of Titan as presented when the series originally debuted – that it was “[The Original Series] in the TNG timeframe” – hooked me. The idea of a series of books following a crew on a mission of exploration that held true to the series’ premise of “boldly going” but in the “current” 24th century was enticing. To hear of potential change coming to the series was worrisome, since in my mind taking away that aspect robs what makes Titan unique. Titan becoming another TNG-like series more about diplomatic missions and less about science and exploration would be a disappointing change, and I read Sight Unseen with trepidation.
While Swallow is changing the paradigm for Titan, it’s not moving away from the core mission of exploration. There is change, and plenty of it in Sight Unseen. But Swallow’s tightly constructed plot and crisp prose finely place the pieces of a new framework. While I remain cautiously optimistic, Sight Unseen provides an excellent jumping-on point for new readers, and is an interesting and approachable twist on the concept.
The aforementioned similarities to Orion’s Hounds and “Encounter at Farpoint” are evident in the novel. We see the return of another Next Generation species, and they are explored at far more extensive depth than in the TV series. In fact, Swallow nails the world-building here (a staple for Titan), fleshing out the Solanae into a credible and conflicted species. We find Titan begin their new assignment as Riker’s flag ship in his new role in command of a frontier zone for Starfleet, and while Titan may not be venturing quite as far as they had previously, their new mission should still require exploring plenty of strange new worlds. It’s a smart twist on the formula.
It also provides an opportunity to look at Starfleet operations from a unique perspective, with Riker adjusting to his life as an admiral and the shift in responsibilities that comes with it. There’s also plenty of character development throughout. Vale, Riker, Dakal, and new crew member Sarai get ample time, and the new conflicts that ensue make for enjoyable drama. There’s even the hint of a wider ongoing story arc going on here- an intriguing change for the series.
Swallow provides a great entry for Star Trek: Titan. While it lacks the scope of his previous novel Synthesis, there are a lot of great ideas here that are well-executed. I eagerly await the next book in the series – presumably now under Swallow’s direction – and see into what unsure waters he takes us.