Prime Directive came out a bit after my primary era of reading Trek novels, money was tighter, and there were just too many coming out. But, it got a fairly good marketing push at the time, as one of the early (third, I think) hardcover novels. I have to say the current cover is much better than the original hardcover version.

So, we get a bit of a confused opening, as the action is over, and the crew of the Enterprise has been scattered in disgrace for a violation of the Prime Directive that ended in the disaster it was designed to prevent: a dead world. Most of the bridge crew has resigned, Uhura is under court martial, Bones hit an admiral… and the Enterprise is a wreck in orbit around a moon, with one warp engine having been ejected, and the other ruined and evaporating, possibly into subspace.

A common idea in SF for various FTL drives is that they can’t be used too close to the gravity field of a large body; either it’s impossible, or there is a great chance of something going wrong (like going to Pluto when you meant to go to the Moon, and your FTL drive disappearing in the process). Star Trek has been largely silent on the subject, implying that any such trouble is fairly minimal at most. But here its assumed that it’s not mentioned because everyone knows not to do it—and the Enterprise is now the first ship to survive the attempt.

Once the stage is set, we get an extended flashback to the mission that caused all this. This gives us a look at how the Federation works to obey its own Prime Directive while studying developing worlds. There’s some interesting bits showing how the inevitable slip-ups are generally accounted for. In fact, this section is generally well done, and would make a good, if not great, novel even without the tension of the coming disaster looming over it.

Star Trek at its non-philosophical best can deliver mysteries. Not necessarily murder mysteries, but related, where the plot and action are bent towards figuring out just what is really going on, what is our limited human viewpoint missing, and how to bring a solution to bear to what has been learned. The bulk of this novel is exactly this. Even before disaster, it is obvious that something is not right in the Talin system, and the desire to delve deeper helps the pages fly by.

A bit of expectation setting/trivia: The intro to the novel firmly says this is set during the final year of the original five-year mission. I was wondering, with all the dramatic career bits here, if it was intended to be the end of the mission and the reason for Enterprise‘s refit. No, an early novel claimed that bit of the timeline, and the Reeves-Stevens respect that claim. Current fan theory likes to instead place the novel a year earlier, and use it to explain some changes in the bridge crew and small differences in the bridge in The Animated Series.

The worst problem is that after the highly public nature of events depicted here, it’s hard to imagine everyone picking up right where they left off, set for another adventure without acknowledging this one. Outside of that, this is good, gripping Star Trek novel, and well recommended. At some point, I’m going to have to read Federation (which was the novel the authors originally pitched for this publication slot, but Paramount took years to be talked into it).